There just isn’t enough Canadian horror in the world, I think. This will go some way to redressing the balance, but I want more dammit!
Don’t screw around with Science
This is the story of a man and a woman who decide to make a baby, but not in the old-fashioned way.
Clive and Elsa are geneticists working for a pharmaceutical company called Nucleic Exchange Research and Development (subtle). They’re in magazines; Clive dresses like an only slightly toned down Russell Brand; basically, they’re the rock stars of their somewhat insular world. The two of them and their team have created a hybrid being using genes from an assortment of animals. At the start of the movie, their second hybrid is being born, this one as a mate for the first. The things are called Fred and Ginger, but look like short, fat, angry turds. Elsa isn’t satisfied with this, and believes they can create a new hybrid, this time including human DNA. Eventually she convinces Clive to join her and the result is a strangely beautiful creature they call Dren. Of course, hijinks ensue.
Splice is the most recent flick from Vincenzo Natali, the Canadian filmmaker responsible for one of my favourite odd, philosophical, almost-horror movies: Cube. Like in that film, Natali continues his habit of meaningful names for his characters. Where the people trapped in the cube were all called after prisons, here the geneticist couple Clive and Elsa are named for the actors Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester from James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. The theme of meddling with science is of course similar. Hell, a key scene from that film is practically remade in the creation of Ginger as a mate for Fred.
The visual effects in this film are astonishing, in particular anything involving Dren. The same way the creature is a hybrid of different animals, so the on-screen presence is a hybrid of all sorts of techniques used seamlessly. There is the incredible performance of Delphine Chanéac to start with, along with on-set puppetry, greenscreen work and digital manipulation (such as the way the actress’ eyes are moved further apart to give her an otherworldly appearance). All the actors are excellent, really. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are as good as ever as Clive and Elsa, and of course Natali’s old high school buddy David Hewlett makes his regular appearance, this time as the couple’s boss at N.E.R.D.
While this is a horror movie and does contain plenty of grue to keep the fans happy, it isn’t a jump-out-of-your-seat job. The horror in Splice is a combination of the classic-era Cronenbergian body horror* tied loosely to that squirmy type of horror such as you would find in something like Polanski’s Repulsion, not the subject matter at least, more that unsettled feeling you get in your belly. Actually just typing that sentence has made me go a bit squirmy in my seat. Now that was one downright disconcerting movie. This is unfortunately the type of film that isn’t made much anymore, which is a real pity. In the wake of the (hopefully dying) torture-porn subgenre, there is definitely room for intelligent, grown-up horror to make a resurgence.
*I’m talking The Fly here, Videodrome, that period of his career. Hang on… Cronenberg, Natali, maybe there’s something in the water up Toronto way. I can live in hope at least.