I went to see Splice on the recommendation of critics that praised it for its intelligence.
I'm really starting to worry about them critics. Do they really watch so much crap that they lose their bearings? Splice is not a totally dumb movie, but I wouldn't say it is intelligent. It is basically an update of the Frankenstein story, which in its time was a retelling of the Golem story. That is, the power of human intelligence and science to create potential wonders but also potential evil. Man playing God. These fables have always been about human arrogance and they tap into our duality (good and evil, hopes and fears), which is why they keep coming back. Yet Splice is a strangely uneven movie that squanders many opportunities to be much smarter than it is. It is halfway there, sort of like the creatures that the scientist couple, Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, create.
I really wanted to like it more than I did, but it is a better than average B movie. If it wasn't for the two heroic leads, who valiantly grapple with really cheesy dialogue, it would be laughable. And in fact, many in the audience were chuckling where I think they were not supposed to. But it's hard to tell, because the tone wavers between the solemn and the ridiculous. And though it does have some sly, gentle humor, it has big gaps in emotional coherence.
I liked that the creation of the creatures is dealt with in terms of parenting. The hybrid monster, created from human, animal and plant DNA, looks like a bald chicken, but Sarah Polley, who plays Elsa (as in Elsa Lanchester, Bride of Frankenstein), loves her like a mom. She also resents her like a mom, because the creature turns out to be a handful. Still, with a little love, Elsa is able to train her. Kind of.
Frankenstein and the Golem were grown men when somebody first screamed "It's alive!". But this thing goes from conception, to mitosis, to embryo, to fetus, to baby. Splice is still about the danger of man (and now woman, yay!) playing God, but here the creation of the monster is at the biological level, not the industrial one, like in Frankenstein, or the metaphysical one in the Golem, so the implications are very resonant for our age of cloning and gene splicing and what not. It also makes explicit a fear that was not touched upon before, which is that what we create can reproduce. That if it is created in our image, then it is sexual. It makes one wonder, how could the older fables have left Woman out of the equation of creation? Splice redresses this enormous slight*. This is the smart part of the movie. The creature goes through a teenage stage; meaning, a truly monstrous stage of raging hormones and mutant feelings and to make things worse, she gets all sexually confused. Without giving much more away, I will pause here to say that Adrien Brody is a very, very, brave actor. The hunger and pain he probably went through surviving the Nazis in The Pianist is small potatoes compared to the one scene he is asked to perform here. I can imagine a montage of other actors rejecting this script on the basis of this one story turn, but Brody soldiers on and for that, I commend him. (I will never stop repeating Mr. Ex-Enchilada's dictum that he looks like a sad clown in a velvet painting. Yet I still like him).
Polley is even better, a wonderful, intelligent actress. She is totally committed to her bald chicken with tenderness and tough love and some darker stuff that the movie brings up but doesn't quite explore, so that some of her mood changes are hard to justify. Pity the actors who are not given coherent motivations for their characters' arcs, which swing as wildly as a ride in a rollercoaster without any emotional support. This is one of the things in the film that makes it veer towards the cheesy.
My biggest beef is that Splice is not scary enough. When I buy a ticket to a horror film, I want to be scared shitless. Otherwise, I want my money back. Splice has exactly one good suspenseful scene and a little bit of tension, but the pacing is as as awkward as the rest of the film.
But you know what is happening to me as I write? I'm mutating. We left the theater feeling disappointed by the film and now I'm remembering it with fondness.
So to sum up: smart in places, ridiculous in others, inexcusably awful dialogue, helped immensely by the presence of two fine actors, particularly Polley, starring a bald chicken, yet strangely compelling the day after.
*Even though the creator of Frankenstein was a woman.