Indie melds sci-fi horror and family dynamics to great effect


Forget cloning; that’s what Splice, the new film from Vincenzo Natali, wants because cloning is so five years ago. The new genetic horizon is gene splicing. What happens when scientists merge various animal DNA strands and create new breeds, which is far more intriguing to the American melting pot mentality than just re-creating or repeating the same old mistakes of the past, right?

The bottom line problem though is not the technology, but the people behind it, and even when they have the best of intentions, boy can things get messy. Hipster nerds Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) run a laboratory charged with producing genetic products from spliced animal lines that will cure diseases and revolutionize life as we know it. They are to be the parents of the modern age and you couldn’t ask for cooler progenitors.

But the smart happy couple isn’t as smart and happy when you scratch the surface. Elsa wants to move into a bigger apartment and produce some real spawn of their own despite the fact that she’s got some deep-seated mother-daughter issues she hasn’t quite come to grips with. Clive has trouble reconciling his sense of morals with his own twisted attraction to the emotionally damaged Elsa.

Their first set of laboratory generated offspring, named Fred and Ginger, are a not so cuddly pair of amorphous slugs that look curiously like they sprang from the mind of Splice producer Guillermo del Toro (think either his Blade installment or Pan’s Labyrinth). But things devolve quickly from there when Clive and Elsa decide to insert human DNA into their primordial stew and some David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers being the most obvious kissing cousins) strands get tangled up in the mix. Once released from its mechanical womb, Clive and Elsa’s petri-dish spawn (played with intriguing physicality by Delphine Chaneac in its more fully formed state) experiences rapid development, physically and hormonally, inspiring in the nerdy couple their own set of accelerated parental dysfunctions.

It must be said that Brody and Polley make the perfect couple – why has no one thought of this pairing before? – not because they are smart and hip and not simply relying on overdone sexualized tabloid chemistry, but due to a reliance on the tried and true rhythms of a couple with history. They find ways to invest these characters with more than reasonable facsimiles of real character traits, recognizable human elements that get twisted and strained to the breaking point. But Polley is the real revelation. She makes the emotional leaps far more probable than they should be. She is the wounded/abused child, the smart scientist, the hip lover, the would-be mother and the jealous lover. She is Everywoman, a true screen diva engaged in an elementally mythic struggle with life. She is the earth and mother and goddess made flesh and the true horror of this show.

Splice can be seen at Rave Cinemas The Greene, Rave Cinemas Dayton South and more

Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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