Alright, Halloween is over, which means that I should be done reviewing horror films, right?
Well, there is one more that I would like to examine – Splice, which was only released to DVD this past Tuesday. Perfect timing, I say. The film did not do as well as it deserved on its theatrical run, and now hopefully a home video release will bring the work some sort of cult recognition. It is one of the most unique, well thought out horror films I have seen in some time.
The film is about two scientists, Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and his girlfriend Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley). They both work as gene splicers and are working on producing new forms of life that may very well have medical benefits to humanity. After a major breakthrough, they test their experiment by creating a life-form with human DNA in it. This creature grows up to become a being that they name Dren, or “nerd” spelled backwards (her adult form is played by Delphine Chaneac, and I know I missing an accent on that e.) They treat the creature as they would treat a child. Yet, the creature begins to express physical sentiments for Clive and becomes quite rebellious, threatening them both.
The film is, essentially, a modern day version of the oft repeated Frankenstein story. If you will recall, Frankenstein is actually about Mary Shelley’s own fears about maternity. This film works much the same way – the two scientists essentially create Dren as a sort of way of gaining the nuclear family that would otherwise not be attainable. There are several scenes in which Sarah Polley coddles the creature like an infant, then punishes it (emasculating it) when it enters its teen years. As with any great monster, Dren is merely a reflection of humanity.
What else is Dren if not the typical teenager? The creature is rebellious, spiteful of its parents, and eager to explore its own sexuality. As with the Frankenstein Monster, it attempts to be a foil to both of its “parents” daring them to take on roles that they otherwise could not. It pushes them both to explore themselves, from their usual roles to what they can accomplish.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley both play the scientists as…well, not the usual sort of film “Professor I Told You So” variety scientist, but as normal parents. This makes them readily identifiable to the general populace. Scenes that are immediately identifiable include moments when one parent complains about the noise the “child” is making and another coddles it and stays awake at night while Dren is sick. It is moments like these that help the film evolve. Yes, in retrospect,they are somewhat cliched, but the film does not belabor the point. We see it, we are reminded of such moments, and then the film moves on without pointing out the same item time and time again.
Now, the best performance of the film belongs to the person playing Dren (in the same way that Boris Karloff is the only person that anyone remembers from James Whale’s Frankenstein). The character does not really talk, but still conveys a wide range of emotional reactions. Audiences know exactly what is on its mind, and can even feel pity about Dren’s longing to find some sort of companion or even activity. At times, it is treated as an experiment (which Dren is) but still, there is a large amount of pity involved with this.
Now, I could complain about the third act becoming the usual horror film chase. But even here, it does work (not as well, but it does work). Mostly because this is where the director finally realizes that this is where the ultimate form of pathos for the two. First, the final scenes are alluded to, so I guess that causes me to forgive the cliche somewhat. Second…well, Frankenstein ends the same way. Sometimes, items like that simply work.
The film needs to be sought out by horror fans, simply because it may be the one true original horror film released in the past year. Everything, even the more familiar moments, is well planned out and well executed. Thematically, it is very satisfying, and everyone involved seems to treat it as something seriously rather than the usual melodramatic affair.