Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley
Runtime: 104 mins
When we think of scientific breakthroughs, we tend to credit a single person with the discovery or invention; that is, if our association goes at all beyond an anonymous group of scientists in a laboratory somewhere. And many science-fiction stories which warn against the possible perils of scientific breakthroughs also tend to focus on a sole transgressor: a Frankenstein, a Dr. Jekyll – or the guy who unwittingly creates the microprocessor that will form the basis of The Terminator’s artificial intelligence.
Whilst Splice also takes this angle, rather than a broad dystopian one, on its tale of genetic engineering in the not-so-distant-future, it’s a couple (Brody and Polley) who suffer the consequences of playing God. Clive & Elsa have impressed a pharmaceutical company with their creation of hybrid animals, beings with the spliced DNA of multiple species, and who are paired up and named after famous couples like Sid & Nancy and Bogie & Bacall. But the couple that the film’s protagonists recall are an Adam & Eve whose sin is to swap having their own children for merging human DNA into their latest hybrid. The result is Dren (Delphine Chanéac), whose alarming development provides most of the film’s best shocks. Once the ethical dilemmas of “should we or shouldn’t we create it/destroy it” are answered, sexual and parental anxieties above all else dominate the change in Elsa and Clive’s lives; when Dren’s own sexual development has clearly begun, traditional procreation looks like a much better option than gene splicing.
This turn of events is the film’s greatest strength and weakness. The secret neuroses that emerge concerning the leads’ attitudes towards Dren aren’t very convincing, and yet the best scenes in the film are thoroughly family-based moments of tension between the three main actors. Vincenzo Natali’s films (Cube, Cypher) tend to merge intellectual provocation with an awareness of the silly side to genre (sometimes subtly and amusingly, sometimes for plot convenience): an abandoned farmhouse of Elsa’s childhood appears to stage Dren’s final, most excessive transformations. By adhering to both the rules of the monster-movie tradition and to H.G. Wells’ mode of cautionary sci-fi, in two equally successful, but here, sometimes frustratingly incongruous styles, rather than suggesting what wider dangers might arise from genetic engineering, the only warning Splice provides is to ask whether humans already know how to raise their current kids before bringing new species into the world