MAY 19, 2010
When HMAD started, I was very spoiler-heavy with my reviews, often blowing the twist in the first paragraph. It wasn’t to be malicious - I designed the site as a way to “talk” about horror movies with others that had seen them, and thus nothing should be spoiled. But as the site got more popular it got harder to do that, especially in instances like today, where Splice is not even released yet and thus I can’t imagine too many readers have seen it yet (and the review is supposed to be enticing people to go see it when it is released in two weeks). So don’t worry - I will not be spoiling any of Splice’s surprises in this review.
And thus it will probably be a short one, because so much of what makes the movie such a delightful surprise is the odd places that the story goes, and I wouldn’t want to even hint at them (I was actually admonished on Twitter simply for pointing out that the 3rd act is incredible!). I will say this though - the trailers are doing a very good job at selling the concept of the movie without giving too much away. In fact, I’m pretty sure the entire trailer is comprised only of footage from the film’s first act. And while the Twitter guy may feel otherwise, I think it’s kind of important to let folks know that the film is much different than they might expect (while not going into details why). Based on the trailers, you might be fooled into thinking that Splice is a Species knockoff, with a monster being created by well-meaning scientists, escaping, and being tracked down by the folks who created her. But that’s not what the movie is - it’s much more original and interesting than that.
The trade off is that it’s a bit light on the action/horror elements - I’m actually kind of shocked that Warner is putting the film out at the top of summer (it’s more of an August type movie - cerebral and dark, not overblown and popcorn-ready like the films it will be competing against). There are only like 6 people in the entire movie, with main scientists Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody and his wacky wardrobe) taking up 95% of the screentime. The movie is as much about their relationship as it is any of the “splicing” elements, and both actors deliver terrific performances - certainly more than just a notch above what you’d get in a “monster” movie. But as you might expect, this means that the body count is obviously pretty low - I’m not joking about the limited cast. Apart from the crowd in a brief conference scene and a few nameless lab techs, there are LITERALLY only 6 people in the movie.
One of whom is “Dren”, the spliced being that they create. THIS is how I love to see CGI being used, as it’s a real person (Delphine Chanéac and Abigail Chu at different stages), with CGI enhanced appendages and such. While Gollum and Jar-Jar are terrific creations (well, only in the technical sense for the latter), they’re still entirely digital, and thus display - albeit in limited form compared to others - problems that they bring (overly fluid motions, occasional weightlessness). Dren has none of that, and it makes her interactions with Polley and Brody all the more believable, which in turn makes the film’s turn of events all the more easy to accept.
There are still a few “spectacle” moments for hardcore horror fans though. Again without spoiling anything, something occurs around the halfway mark that is so horrifying and grotesque I thought for sure it had to be a dream sequence. And as this IS a genre film, the climax obviously has some bad things going down. In a way, it’s sort of like a really great early season episode of The X-Files, where you have a fairly talky first 2/3s or so, with some good (if brief) action to close it up - which also makes it a better X-Files movie than the actual 2nd X-Files movie, which concluded with a guy being hit over the head and Skinner waving a gun around.
I was also excited to see Vincenzo Natali return to the genre. After Cube he dove into the thriller (Cypher) and existential comedy (Nowhere) genres, neither of which I have seen (though Cypher is on my queue), and I was starting to wonder if he would ever come back or if he was pulling a William Friedkin and making a landmark genre film and then stepping away more or less forever (is The Guardian Friedkin’s only post-Exorcist full blown horror film? Bug is sort of up for debate.). Cube is one of my favorite horror films of the 90s (and one of my all time favorite commentary tracks - essential for low budget filmmakers!), so it’s great to have him back. Hopefully his next foray into the genre won’t be so long in coming. Maybe it’s just because of the Canadian setting, but his work here reminded me a lot of early Cronenberg (technically and creatively), which is not a bad guy to be compared to, in my opinion. He’s clearly got some big ideas and isn’t willing to churn out junk (I’m sure he’s been offered several remakes/sequels over the years - you don’t make a movie as good as Cube and not get courted), which makes him very respectable as well as talented.
Maybe when the Blu-Ray comes out I will review the film again, and talk at length about its twists and such, as well as discuss a few minor negative points that would be difficult to get into without spoiling anything (very vaguely - there seems to be some missing character development for both Elsa and Dren). I also think that they try a bit too hard to make Elsa and Clive out to be the coolest, rock-star scientists of all time - the Wired magazine cover is one thing, but the giant anime poster over their bed and wall-to-wall Yo Gabba Gabba and Sock Monkey toys are a bit much. But it’s a minor quibble; as I said the other day with Lo, I just love seeing a movie where I have no idea where it’s going to go, and Splice certainly qualifies as one. It might not be my favorite movie of the year (so far that title belongs to Shutter Island, which is ironic because that one I guessed the ending almost instantly. Power of Scorsese!), but it will almost certainly be one of (or THE) most original and unique, at least from a major studio. Grats to Warner Bros/Dark Castle for putting it out there (and giving it a pretty big push) next to all of the 3D and PG-13 tentpoles without a single original idea between them.
What say you?
P.S. If I can’t spoil stuff, neither can you. Any comments with major spoilers will be rejected (at least for the next month - after that I’m sure it will be common knowledge, at least amongst folks who would bother reading talkbacks on a horror movie blog).