When I originally saw the trailer for this sci-fi horror flick called “Splice,” I was not impressed. In fact, I thought it was pretty silly. I remember my eyes rolling a little and then, as the trailer ended, immediately opening another tab in my browser to post the link on my Facebook page with some snarky comment about silliness and stupidity. Like I said … unimpressed.

And yet, here I am, basking in the afterbirth of this new film by writer and director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube,” “Paris, Je t’aime”) wishing I could go back, smack the snobby snarkiness off my face that day and make myself realize the potential that this film holds. Well, since I don’t own a DeLorean with a flux capacitor … (clearing throat) … I guess I can just admit I made a mistake.

“Splice,” the newest film by the above mentioned Natali is a scientific, horror gem that has much more to offer than meets the eye. Focusing on two brilliant scientists, Elsa (Sarah Polley of “Dawn of the Dead”) and Clive (Academy Award winner Adrien Brody), “Splice” is a film that defies the borders of morality showing the implications of our actions when we disobey the ethics of our society and thus, the ugliness of what we allow in an environment without rules. Simply put, Elsa and Clive have made new life by splicing together the genes of different animals in the pursuit of finding pharmaceuticals. However, like all scientists, the next step is too enticing and it is only a matter of time before they try mixing their new creation with human DNA.

By the previews and movie poster, I think it’s no spoiler that the two actually do create a humanoid being named Dren, so I’ll spare you the guessing games. Dren, played by Delphine Chanéac is the true star of the film and amazing to watch. As a character, the filmmakers have done an excellent job developing her and making her more than just the hidden, ugly creature. Dren is a complete learning, curious, complex being and watching her move and interact with the actors and the sets is like watching a beautiful interpretive dance on stage. Whenever Dren is in a scene, you cannot take your eyes off of her because she is so interesting to watch. From her birth and as her development is documented, you really do feel like you are watching the maturation of a new, living being and you can’t help but start to feel the connection that occurs.

At the same time, more than half her body throughout the film is computer-generated and save a few moments when she is first born, Dren’s animation is flawless. I remember back to older sci-fi, horror films that make you wait and wait and wait to see the beastie and when the big reveal happens, you are so disappointed because the computer generation was crap. Well not here. Dren is integral to the story and the digital team does an excellent job integrating her into the entire environment.

It terms of the other key actors, Polley and Brody are excellent. As more than just scientific partners in the film, the duo joke, verbally skewer and show affection to one another in a way that seems believable. You actually do feel like they are a couple with a long shared history and, in the end, your heart breaks even more as you watch them allow this experiment to spiral out of control. At the same time, these are not your stereotypical nerds. These are two brilliant, up and coming rock stars of science and they show the confidence that their work produces. They have style, they have personality and above all, they are just like you and me … save the massive amount of data they seem to comprehend and the scientific knowledge they wield … but you get the point.

In the end, though, I think the controversy of this film will be in the story. In my opinion, it is hard to classify this film with other sci-fi horrors for a few reasons. First, it is just too damn smart (in a good way.) The filmmakers clearly are not waiting for the audience to catch up with the science in a few parts and I think that is just fine. Too many times, films slow themselves down to explain details and here, Natali does the right thing and allows the story to just keep going regardless of the jargon that Polley or Brody are spewing out. So I guess intelligent horror is the best way to describe the genre of this film.

Second, smartly, Natali did not go for the old, quick scare tactics or overblown gore that so many films have taken lately. If you’ve read some of my past reviews, I think you can tell that I am not a big fan of that method of horror. Instead, the scares are paced with tension and, save for a few medical moments of bodily fluid and blood, gore is almost nonexistent in the film.
Lastly (and here is the controversial part), I am even going as far to say that the horror in this film has little or nothing to do with Dren. It has more to do with the lack of morals and the spiral down that Elsa and Clive allow as the experiment continues. I’m not sure if this is what was intended, but for me, I saw the personal horror that we as humans will allow to happen if we continue to blur the lines of morality. Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to preach a particular doctrine or belief system, but once you see what these two allow in the sake of breaking the rules of science, you will be horrified, engaged and on the fence of how you enjoy this film. Like a horrible car accident, this film is hard to take your eyes away from because you can’t believe what you are seeing. I even had to laugh out loud a few times in shock because of what was happening in front of me.

I will share a little warning. Well two actually. First, this is not a kid’s film. There were a lot of kids in the audience when I saw it and this film is rated “R” for a reason. Second, some friends of mine were so disgusted after the screening they could not put into words accurately how they were feeling or if they even liked the movie at all. Personally, I liked it, but I completely understand why they did not. This is not a feel good film or a “quick one and done” kind of horror film. It makes you feel a little gross after seeing it. I sometimes like feeling that way, but if you don’t, just be aware.

Of course this movie is not perfect. At a certain point, the film does have to go a little down the stereotypical route of horror film. Luckily, it doesn’t stray too long but if you pay attention, you can see it unfold pretty early on.

Overall, “Splice” is an excellent addition out in theaters this weekend. Probably better suited for a winter release where it would not have to battle the summer adventure blockbusters that seem to attack us this season, but nevertheless, a smart, sometimes funny, very engaging and horribly icky intelligent horror film that is sure to please the horror elite.

4 out of 5 Genomes

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