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rochefort [Celluloid 05.21.10] movie review scifi horror

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Year: 2009
Directors: Vincenzo Natali
Writers: Vincenzo Natali & Antoinette Terry Bryant & Doug Taylor
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 9 out of 10

[Editor's note: I STILL haven't seen this so if you have a screener, please get in touch.]

Elsa and Clive (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) are rockstar scientists who have made a major breakthrough in genetic modification, one that could potentially revolutionize medicine and cure many of the world's worst diseases. When their superiors squelch any possibility that these breakthroughs will open the door to more controversial experiments (like the splicing of non-human and human dna), Elsa and Clive covertly make their own human/animal hybrid, just to see if it can be done. In the tradition of "Frankenstein" and "The Fly" comes "Splice", the latest feature from Canada's Vincenzo Natali ("Cube", "Cypher"), a tragic, science-gone-awry thriller/creature feature that is headed, against all odds, to theaters all around the country.


I was lucky enough to be part of a special screening for the film here in Austin, TX put on by Harry Knowles (nice work, man), and director Natali was in attendance. He told us during the Q&A that the version we'd just seen was, in fact, the post-Sundance cut, one he'd slightly retooled after Joel Silver came on as executive producer. The difference in the cuts, according to Natali, is a total of 2 minutes and 11 seconds. To hear him tell it the excisions (and a couple of newly-added bits) were for pace and not content, and I had no problem believing him, not after seeing how "Splice" plays out. For a mainstream summer movie, this one is going to be a tad more shocking than the typical studio fare, and may even turn out to be a little polarizing. While leaving the theatre, I noticed that the offhand comments and critiques ranged from absolute disgust to stunned awe (I also noticed that the vast majority of the audience looked like they were here for the Zach Galifianakis look-alike contest, but I digress...). Personally, I'm clearly jaded, and the elements that are being touted as "controversial" didn't really knock me down, and probably won't do so to the average semi-depraved geek. But no press is bad press, right? And "Splice" is a deserving film, so if middle-America goes in expecting another "District 9" and comes out yet again decrying the decaying moral fiber of the country, so be it. As long as they paid full price, because Natali deserves to keep working.

In addition to owing a healthy (and admitted) debt to the likes of "Frankenstein", "The Fly", "Ssssss", "The Brood", and pretty much any mad-science cinema tale of the last six decades or so, "Splice" also confidently explores the subtext that tends to inspire and define such tales, embracing any and all parallels to the myths of Oedipus, Icarus, Prometheus, and so on. Natali keeps the narrative so focussed on Elsa and Clive that it's almost a two-actor show, at least until their creation shows up and matures, and their relationship is more than just a device to get to the wacky experiments. Deftly written and performed, each is believable and likable, and the plot hinges as much on their personalities and mistakes as it does anything else, giving the appearance of a sci-fi movie that it as character-driven as plot-driven. No small feat in this day and age. Or this genre, for that matter. Chances are you'll be familiar enough with the broader strokes of the story that you don't need a play-by-play overview of the plot, and honestly the quick synopsis doesn't really give away the two most rewarding and refreshing aspects. The first is the tight, economical script, and the second is undeniably the creature Dren (a mix of cgi, puppetry, a huge dose of actress Delphine Chaneac, and pretty much every other trick in the book), destined to become one of sci-fi cinema's great wonders of fusion technology, alongside Gollum, King Kong, and a small handful of others. No matter how been-there/done-that you may consider yourself as a filmgoer, you will not be able to take your eyes off Dren whenever she's on screen, and on the one or two occasions where it seems the script is setting her up for an unintentional laugh, the payoff comes quickly and livens things up all over again.

There are definitely familiar elements throughout, not the least of which is the ending, which briefly veers into monster movie territory before culminating in a coda that was already telegraphed in the events of the final act, and unfolds without any real resounding surprises. I can't resist the urge to bring up some of the net-based spectator criticism that has cropped up on this one; seems like some people have been really slamming "Splice" since Sundance, some even going so far as to compare it to "Species". Sorry there's no other way to put this, and flame on if you feel you gotta, but such a comparison is simply asinine. "Species" was the kind of film that keeps sci-fi in the trash ghetto, whereas "Splice", with it's nuanced characterization, brisk but coherent pacing, and consistently logical plotting, is the kind of film that brings the genre steadily further up the ladder of class and respectability. This isn't the kind of film that needs to snap your neck with one shock after another, and its plot unfolds cleanly and confidently. Sometimes a story is good because of, and not in spite of, its simplicity. "Splice" is not just good, but excellent storytelling, the elegance of its newer touches subtle and graceful, which is probably why most of these elements seem to be going over certain heads. Don't take it personal, haters, but I think the gestalt is about to leave you behind for a brief bit. If there's any justice, the naysaying will be squelched when the film opens wide this June, and all but the most uptight will have to concede that the next great science-fiction film of our time has arrived. This guy is doing "High Rise" and "Neuromancer" (no new updates from Natali on either, but he's still very much attached to both)? Consider me excited.

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Ben Austwick (4 years ago) Reply

Awesome film. Reminded me of Drag Me To Hell in its pacing and humour, and seems similarly divisive.

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TomF (4 years ago) Reply

Elsa and Clive, huh? Not too subtle.

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Hal (4 years ago) Reply

Awesome.

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projectcyclops (4 years ago) Reply

Amazing film, really took me by suprise.


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