Here’s a new twist on a hoary sci-fi subgenre: What if there were realms in which woman was not meant to meddle?
Geneticists Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) and Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody), who have made a career of creating "multispecies morphogens," and are about to debut their crowning glory: Fred and Ginger, a pair of horrific-looking blobs built up from the genes of many species that promise to, we’re told, supply the basis for countless new medications and treatments for all that ails humanity. Fred and Ginger are intriguing extrapolations of real current science, but the drama invented around them by director Vincenzo Natali — who co-wrote Splice with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor — is hopelessly naive: the film pretends that the public response to Fred and Ginger would not be one of moral outrage. Moral outrage would only come as a result of Elsa and Clive’s next project: creating a "multispecies morphogen" that includes — as Fred and Ginger do not — human DNA.
But Natali appears most interested in serving up a kind of sexual torture, of the audience as well as of his protagonists. Though Dren, the creature Elsa and Clive mad-science into existence, starts out life as a larval blob, within days she is adult size and not so weirdly exotic that she isn’t supermodel-hot. (Dren is played, as a "grownup," by the very lovely French actress Delphine Chanéac, with just a few CGI enhancements.) Natali wants the, er, male members of his audience to want to f—- Dren. And the punishment he will dole out to Elsa for her overreaching into realms she was not meant to be meddling in will take on a particularly gendered tenor.
I was delighted with Splice, at first, to see that it featured a female scientist doing basically realistic work. But this is not a gender-blind part. The lead scientist here must be female because the horror that Natali wants to dole out is specifically of a female — though decidedly unfeminist — cast.
You don't have to be clued in by the characters' names — "Elsa" and "Clive" have Hollywood-Frankenstein connections — to know that this cannot end well. But on its way to its own uniquely distasteful twist of an ending, Splice is also neither B-movie cheesy enough nor X-Files sober enough to please in either direction. All it has, then, is the sexual torture. And that’s really not fun.