The Future is Born.
Rising young stars in the genetics world, Clive and Elsa (Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley), are making great strides in DNA testing. Tired of being hampered by rules and regulations, they secretly splice human genes with animal ones just to see if it can be done. The end result is an animalistic humanoid female, with violent tendencies and an accelerated rate of growth. As Dren (as they name her) grows older, it becomes less a question of what scientific advancements does she represent and more a question of how do they contain her.
SPLICE is an excellent take on the old Mad Scientist trope, updated for the modern age with just enough sleaze bubbling beneath the surface to keep the grown-ups happy. The performances are great, even if too much effort was put into making our leads seem hip and trendy. The special effects are also good, with our lethal lady Dren stealing the show in consistently entertaining ways. As far as I’m concerned, SPLICE is a must-see movie of the modern age.
As mentioned in the capsule above, SPLICE is a modern take on Mad Science. It’s FRANKENSTEIN for the age of Dolly the Cloned Sheep, and even our lead’s names are references to that Prometheus tale. Clive comes from Colin Clive and Elsa comes from Elsa Lanchester, who played Dr. Henry Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein in the Universal films of the 1930s. Even Clive’s last name, Nicoli, is reminiscent of Nikola Tesla, something of a mad scientist of the real world.
Our heroes are the brash young rockstars of the genetics world. We know this because of the leather jackets and ironic suits that they wear, because they listen to classic jazz music on vinyl, and because they decorate their ridiculous loft apartment with oversized manga prints and Munny figures. All of which is fine, as far as character nuance goes, but I can’t help but wonder why it seems so important to the filmmakers. In a few years, this will be the basis of disdain against this movie, as the rising hipster backlash blindly seeks to consume more victims—if it hasn’t happened already. Don’t get suckered, though. SPLICE is still the real deal, jazz montage not withstanding.
Clive and Elsa’s company is named Nucleo Exchange Research and Development, or NERD for short. When it comes time to bestow a moniker upon their creation, this is simply read backwards and Dren is born. Her life cycle is an interesting one that should be experienced for yourself, but assuming that you’ve already seen the film, I’m going to be discussing it (and other aspects) with reckless abandon.
Dren starts off in some sort of larval form before emerging as a hideous, hairless kangaroo-rat. From there she evolves into the unlikely form of a creepy, humanoid child, and then into a young woman with a bit of alien sex appeal. She has a deadly tail, legs that are hinged in unsettling ways, a bald head with eyes set too far apart, and a slightly bifurcated face. But there’s something appealing about her to Clive that he can’t initially place. He later finds out, though, that Elsa has used her own DNA in the experiment, which opens us up to a whole new level of ethical concerns.
Early in the film, it is established that Clive wants children, but Elsa is not keen on the idea. This is probably due to her own unhappy (and likely abusive) childhood. But by using her own genetic makeup in the experiment, she was creating an offspring that she could have control over, which explains why she became so affectionate and protective of Dren when in her childlike state. It takes a while for Clive to warm up to Dren, but when he does, it goes from warm to steamy in a heartbeat. He actually has sex with her—an act that is discovered by Elsa. To fully comprehend the perversity of this act, one must understand that Dren is basically an animal in human skin. She may look like a young woman, but that’s only because of her advanced aging process—she’s actually been alive for a very short amount of time. And also, she has stepped into the role of child for the childless couple. So in essence, Clive has committed bestiality, pedophilia, and incest in one fell swoop.
In her final evolutionary arc, Dren spontaneously changes genders, becoming a male. One of his first acts? Raping Elsa. Whereas Clive’s consensual intercourse is something of incest-by-proxy (the equivalent of a man sleeping with his stepdaughter), Dren raping (and impregnating) Elsa is outright incest due to their shared DNA. Their offspring is never seen, but one can imagine the result would not be pretty.
From top to bottom, SPLICE is rich with an ugly sexuality that I don’t have the proper degrees to fully dissect, but there’s some new brand of creepy around every corner. Dren’s evolution very well could have been this film’s tagline: Science Experiment. Surrogate Child. Lover. MONSTER.
I bet that would have sold a few more tickets.
SPLICE was written by Doug Taylor, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Vincenzo Natali. Taylor had previously scripted the Wings Hauser horror film THE CARPENTER (1988) and has more recently worked on A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015). Bryant’s only other credit is the short film I CAN SEE YOU (2014), whereas Natali is known for his contribution to the script for CUBE (1997) and the “U is for Utopia” segment of ABCs OF DEATH 2 (2014). Natali also directed this film, as well as the previously mentioned CUBE, the interesting but flawed HAUNTER (2013), and a handful of episodes of HANNIBAL (2014-2015). He is otherwise known as a storyboard artist, having done work on animated shows like BABAR (1991), BEETLEJUICE (1991), and TALES FROM THE CRYPTKEEPER (1993), among others.
Child Dren was played by Abigail Chu, and Adult Dren by Delphine Chanéac. Chanéac is a French model and actress who has had quite a few roles, but not many of them will be known to an English-speaking audience. The exception is her part of Juliette Dubois on the TRANSPORTER television series from 2012-2013, where she proved that her legs are actually quite normal.
The jury, however, is still out on the tail.