Friday, 4 January 2013

Review: Splice (SPOILERS)

Rather like the two scientists played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, Splice is not as clever as it thinks it is.

There is some interesting creature design, if not entirely plausible. This is where Guillermo del Toro's hand is most apparent. Unsurprisingly given his pedigree, this element works very well, but it highlights how short of the mark the rest of the film falls.

The film is particularly gunshipped by a script which confuses a plethora of themes. Even the one-sheet poster (see right) falls prey to this, combining the familial warm fuzzies of Cocoon or Ghost with the pointy-tailed threat of Alien, and the scuzzy, aggro font of a million and one spatter horrors. The visuals are better, under the capable eye of Tetsuo Nagata, although far from the heights of his work on Ma Vie En Rose and Micmacs.

All too often Splice tries to plug thematic leaks by asking the actors to ram a square peg into a round hole; Sarah  Polley suffers bipolar swings between maternal angst and emotionless laboratory genius, which highlights the writers' fumbled attempts to draw out the moral conflicts between science and parenting. If The Godfather had to spell out that "it's not personal, Sonny, it's strictly business" to show just how much of a lie Michael Corleone was selling, then it is remarkably brave of Natali to rely on performances alone to render abrupt character shifts. Even Adrien Brody, doing his utmost to keep the film plausible, cannot pull off a moment that sees him spontaneously decide to have sex with Dren.

"I won an Oscar, what the hell am I doing here?"

Speaking of whom, Delphine Chaneac's performance as the adult Dren brings absolutely nothing beyond stage directions such as "Dren looks hurt", "Dren giggles like a schoolgirl", or "Dren snarls". The whole farrago leaves me wondering if the director actually offered his cast any notes at all.

Finally, this film relies on characters explicitly choosing to pursue or ignore scientific method, as one of the main motivators. Now, I'm no scientist, but from the very first scene it is clear that is underpinning is laughably weak.

I struggled for a while afterwards to understand what the film set itself out to be in terms of genre and aims. I suppose that the only genre which might get away with showing this much contempt for its protagonists is contemporary horror, but even by these meagre standards Splice fails, as it tries to introduce "issues" to build tension, but then handles them incompetently. The result is boredom and so the scares, when they come, are anaemic.

So we have characters who struggle to achieve two dimensions, a shoehorned script and ineffective performances from the two female leads. There are many more flaws besides, but for me, these were the most significant. While I didn't hate the film, it felt like a woefully missed opportunity.

The only people I can see enjoying this film might be genre addicts, whom the visceral creature/horror elements may be enough to satisfy. It is certainly the only aspect of the film which I will remember beyond today.

Weak, weak, weak.

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