Thursday, October 21

Review: Splice

Science fiction horror has, paradoxically enough, always been more about people then anything else. But it makes sense if you give it a little thought. Human drama is always about confronting characters with situations that are new to them, thus creating conflict. And what makes a better drama then setting the characters (and the viewer) up against something that is truly new, namely something that hasn't existed before? Which is what monster story writers have been doing for almost 300 years now.

Take, for instance, the famous story of Frankenstein. A man builds a creature. He is, however disappointed in his work and abandons his creation. The "monster" then vows revenge and starts killing people close to his creator. When Frankenstein (the scientist, not the monster) dies, however, the monster can be seen grieving at his dead body.

If you strip away all the "we must not play God" and "science must not get out of hand" subtext, you will have to recognize that this is a very male-centered story. You can read it like a distorted father-son relationship, in which both act out their aggression on anything but each other. The problem here comes directly from reckless and emotionally detached creation and a lack of nurturing and motherly love, two attributes which are traditionally male (by which I mean that they are usually contributed to men. I'm not saying all dudes are heartless bastards).


The funny thing is that this male perspective is, perhaps more even then in other genres, a staple of the horror genre (science fiction tends to be more emancipated). Psycho, The Exorcist and even The Shining*  all are about battles that are fought out between men, with women trapped hopelessly in between. There are exceptions, but they are few and rarely contain a truly female perspective.

Enter Splice.

Splice is a 2009 monster movie that tells the story of Clive and Elsa, a couple of biochemists at work and in the bedroom. At the beginning of the film, they have just completed their latest project: splicing the DNA of several species together to create a new specie. But just as all the pieces are falling into place (including an interview in Wired) and they can pursue the next medical breakthrough in science, their project is plugged. Elsa, who is clearly the dominant one in the relationship, pushes Clive to continue working on their next project in secret: splicing animals with human DNA. What comes out is Dren (nerd spelled backwards), who looks like one of David Cronenbergs erotic nightmares and behaves like a mix between a sweet little girl and one of the facehuggers from Alien, including adolescent mood swings and an Oedipus complex. She (it?) is never truly an animal, but not completely human either. She's more like a force of nature. Clive wants to destroy her, but Elsa feels responsible for the creature and decides to keep it. She soon starts to nurture Dren like a child. I won't have to spell out that this is not a very good idea.

Above: not a very good idea

Splice's concept is, as you might see, pretty damn original. It's Elsa's mother instincts and nurturing reflexes that set most of the film in action, not Clives curiosity. And it's implications are rather groundbreaking as well: where most "creature features" lay the blame squarely on reason going wild without any ethical or emotional concern, Splice seems to say that it's emotion meddling up peoples logical thinking that really makes the shit hit the fan. In fact, instead of saying that the science going rogue is the issue at hand, you can see Splice as laying the blame on the supposed moral outcry of the general public that forces Clive and Elsa to go rogue. Stuff to think about.

The movie is not without it's faults, however. To reach some interesting dilemma's, the characters do things that are just impossibly stupid, especially for a couple of supposedly brilliant scientists. And staying on the subject of science: the theoretical framework for the movie is loose at best, and the "scientific"babble Clive and Elsa sometimes retort to is more then a little dumb. The movie also never gets anywhere near scary, which some people might find a letdown. On the other hand, the acting is pretty good and the special effects (especially those of the creatures) are rather spectacular for such a low-budget indie movie. And the film kept my full attention for an hour and a half, which is quite a feat in and on itself.

Splice is a movie that doesn't get interesting unless you are willing to think about it. In that respect, it is a rather good and intelligent movie. If you like discussing movies after you've seen them, Splice is a recommendation. If you want a movie to stand solely on it's own, however, you might be a bit disappointed.


* The Shining, the way I see it at least, is all about Jack vs. himself. His wife is basically a stock character.

P.S.Wow, we can have movies with dominant females that are not evil mothers or dominatrixes now! Yay for emancipation!

Eels are awesome.