Review: “Splice” (2010)

splicepolleySarah Polly and the liveliest chicken thigh north of the Canadian border

Like its genetically-confused central character, Splice has a seriously complicated identity. It’s at once a straight-up monster movie, a witty satire of bad parenting, a Frankenstein story, a splattery comedy, and a surprisingly biting morality play about personal ambition.

Thanks to a buoying sense of humor and two uncommonly good actors at its center (Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody), the flick manages to overcome its innate schizophrenia (and some related pacing issues) and emerge from its celluloid womb a unique and rather fascinating creation.

Much like Cube – writer/director Vincenzo Natali‘s breakout debut feature – the core strength of Splice is its ability to be simultaneously quite clever and unrepentantly trashy. And much like that film, Splice‘s odd balance of socially-concerned talkiness and gruesome excess may not be a hit with mainstream audiences. Of course, we here are not a mainstream audience, and chances are you’ll get as big of a kick in the nuts out of the movie as I did.

splicedrenA sctrotum-head only a mother could love…

I almost hesitate to go into too much detail regarding the plot, because the folks at Warner Bros. have actually done the film a solid by keeping the true nature of Splice a dirty secret. From the looks of the previews this is old-school monster movie stuff, but that’s only the tip of the gooey iceberg. From its modest rogue-geneticist beginnings the story morphs into a black comedy about parenting, then into a psychosexual thriller, a mad scientist story, and ultimately a scathing condemnation of personal and corporate greed.

At the core of its genre-hopping script is a central character that is so unpredictable that even when plot twists are telegraphed miles in advance (which they all are), you’re so curious to see what the little critter is going to come up with next that you likely won’t care.

Resembling in its infancy a cock-and-balls with a nasty claw (junk only a mother could love!), the organism that eventually evolves into the humanoid Dren goes through a hell of an awkward phase, at turns resembling a raw chicken leg, a mouse on toothpicks, and my own cat, Weezie (which led to some seriously awkward snuggling last night).

Next to the Science Channel box of wonders that is Dren, the humans that created and care for her – for better or worse – should by all rights fade into the set dressing. But thanks mostly to their sheer loathsomeness, maverick scientists Else (Polley of Dawn of the Dead, Go and The Sweet Hereafter) and Clive (Brody of The Pianist, King Kong and … The Jacket?) remain fairly compelling characters. Each makes decisions that would be unforgivable if they didn’t propel the plot into some of the most unexpected territories I’ve seen in a major genre release in quite some time, including one of the most awesomely horrible sex scenes I’ve ever seen.

splicedrenpollyGirls, girls – you’re both pretty!

By the time Dren is an adult and looks like nothing more than Amelie with a Thundercat browline, things have gotten so far from where the movie started that you might actually wonder if you’re still watching the same film. And, really, considering that one of the themes of the movie is evolution, that’s not at all inappropriate. But the constant re-booting of expectations does make the movie feel a bit long.

Near the end of the movie things also take a bit of a queer bent, although I won’t get too deep into the details (as they relate to one of the well-telegraphed plot twists). But suffice to say that fluid sexuality is alive and well in Canadian horror. Thanks, Papa Cronenberg!

Overall, I got a kick out this one – it’s different, it’s got balls, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The genetic recipe for summer movie perfection?



Splice is Rated R for persistent gooeyness, graphic violence, nudity, and gratuitous Adrian Brody.

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