Thursday, June 10, 2010

601 - Splice review

The state of horror in cinema today is dreary, and not in a genre-appropriate way. The horror movies that most commonly make their way to the multiplexes fall into a few aggressively mundane categories; PG-13 goosebumpers, “Saw”-esque torture chambers, and thoughtless remakes of old horror films that weren’t very good to begin with. I don’t often hear horror-aficionados complain, because they’ve made peace with the genre’s flaws long ago. But it’s unfortunately rare that the average moviegoer can only infrequently access onscreen chills from a picture that’s actually good.

“Splice” is one of those rare instances where a horror film manages to transcend its label. It’s a smart, well-made creature feature that aspires to do more than dole out moments to make the audience jump or linger on gruesome details designed to inspire nausea. And for those who need the blood, it has that too, placed at the end, almost as if an afterthought.

In what is not at all described as the future, we’re introduced to Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley), brilliant geneticists and lovers working on synthesizing a protein for a huge corporation. After successfully breeding a creature that vaguely resembles a set of intestines with legs, the corporate bigwigs deny them permission to step up their game and create something vaguely human.

Well, the rules are made to be broken, and the pair goes on ahead and creates a new being, anyway. And vaguely human isn’t an exaggeration; the being, named Dren by her creators (nerd spelled backwards), resembles a person, a pig, a bird, a monkey, and a goat. They’re a little vague about what animal DNA she has for a reason, I suppose. Dren grows from tiny to human sized in the span of weeks, with all the joyous things that accompany growing up; the ability to read, sexual awareness, violent mood swings, the works, especially if they lend themselves to a horror film.

Wonderfully directed by Vincezo Natali (the cult sci-fi film “Cube”), “Splice” is anchored by surprisingly three dimensional performances from Brody and Polley. Both shade their scientists with humanity, their relationship, which features a conflict over if, when, and how to raise children, forming the basis for Dren’s treatment. Smart horror films often feature characters whose deepest fears are plugged directly into the scenario that arises, and it’s played to great psychological effect here as Clive and Elsa’s affections for Dren are twisted in demented ways.

The film wraps up with a sequence that introduced a body count and reminds us what inferior, less thoughtful horror films are like. It’s fine enough, but I doubt I’m the only one who will wish that the conclusion had come five minutes earlier. Perhaps it’s impossible to get a movie like this funded without a big showdown tacked onto the end, where blood spills and central figures expire. Then again, maybe if we were deprived of endings where everything gets solved violently, we’d start to miss them

3.5 out of 5

1 comment:

Dustin said...

"I don’t often hear horror-aficionados complain, because they’ve made peace with the genre’s flaws long ago."

This line highlights what I like most about your film reviews- an observation that is both funny and true.