Ever since a 19-year-old named Mary Shelley wrote a novel called Frankenstein, the scientist who plays God and creates life has been a staple of fiction. Indeed, Shelley realised her work’s place in a long tradition by subtitling it, The Modern Prometheus. From the dawn of cinema, the concept has been brought forward repeatedly by filmmakers, including in 2009 director Vincenzo Natali with Splice.
The world of splice is that of giant pharmaceutical company N.E.R.D. and its superstar geneticist couple Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). After successfully created new organisms from spliced DNA, the two suggest introducing human DNA into the process to provide donor organisms to cure all sorts of adverse genetic human conditions. When the company bosses baulk at the concept, the pair decide to go ahead themselves…in secret.
The resulting hybrid, named ‘Dren’ (NERD backwards, of course), grows at a rapid rate and Clive and Elsa struggle to keep its existence secret. Then Dren herself begins acting more unpredictably, with particular instability arising from her human side.
There can be little argument that the subject matter of Splice is well-worn territory. The usual questions of morality and creation are raised, but to Natali’s credit, that is not where he focusses the attention of the film. Instead, he makes it about a family unit, albeit one dysfunctional in the extreme, the cycle of abuse and the connections we form with each other.
Even more telling, Natali does not shy away from the sexual element of proceedings and this is surely the pivot for most audiences. If you are on board with the choices of Natali and the characters, this is a brave approach that escalates proceedings. On the other hand, it is easily open to derison and may distance a more cynical audience.
The film itself belies its modest budget and is superbly realised. Austere environments are carefully composed throughout, while Dren herself is an impressive combination of practical and digital effects throughout the stages of her life.
While treading a fairly familiar core plot, Splice takes enough adventurous steps to make this a superior sci-fi flick, with brains beyond its creature-feature roots. Highly recommended.
- Vincenzo Natali Interview
- Featurette: A Director’s Playground
- Behind The Scenes
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.