Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Revenge of the Drens

In 2010, it has been a familiar story. See trailer for upcoming film. Trailer looking interesting, I eagerly anticipate the film's release. End result: Either the film is released in so limited a fashion that I have literally no chance to see the film in theaters (see: Jack Goes Boating, Centurion), or other films take precedence and the film passes before I've had a real chance to catch it (see: The American, The Losers, Paranormal Activity 2, Jonah Hex, The Last Exorcism). Either way I'm kicking myself for missing them at the theater, while patiently awaiting their DVD release for my perusal. The latter happened with Splice this past June. Just missing it in theaters after unimpressive box office results bid it a quick adieu, I was forced to wait until the film was released to see it, and even then after catching up on several other films I'd missed from earlier this year. Still, this film about gene splicing and cloning going horribly wrong definitely struck a chord when I first learned about it, and I had no doubt that it would be fighting for a spot on my Top 10 List for 2010.

So... yeah... wanna make out?
Splice introduces us to genetic engineers Clive (Adrian Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polly), who have seen their latest scientific breakthroughs all but thwarted by the higher-ups in the company that funds their research, who want their experiments to begin providing profitable rewards. Then, unknown by their employers, Clive and Elsa build a new life form, splicing many of the genetic codes they've used before with a sample of human DNA, a huge no-no in the scientific community. Operating under the noses of their bosses, the creature they sire grows quickly and develops from infant to young woman in a very short time frame. Dren, as she is called (nerd backwards), continues to develop new evolutionary traits and eventually becomes a danger not only to her "parents", but the world as a whole were she to be released unto the populace.

Well, sure, they're all cute when they're SMALL
Splice is directed by Vincenzo Natali, who many might remember for his work on the cult film The Cube. He's done a number of films since then, though the mainstream film watcher no doubt has heard of none of them. He's certainly a good enough director to tackle bigger projects, though this film seems to fall right in his comfort zone, taking on a timely controversial topic (in this case, human cloning and its genetic variants) and running with it. The film doesn't take itself too seriously, infusing the right amount of sweetness and humor into Dren's upbringing before letting the horrific aspects of the story take over. Natali also isn't afraid to leave some things ambiguous and up to the mind of the viewer. This might be one reason Hollywood hasn't nabbed him yet, as many American audiences seem to need every detail explained to them while watching a film, rather than just taking in the story and interpreting it their own way. With this film, Natali does an amazing job of letting the story tell itself, the characters growing around events they initiated but ultimately beyond their control.

Aww, look, she made a special friend!
It's been a big come-back year for Adrien Brody. The youngest ever recipient of the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role in 2002's The Pianist, Brody had since not done too much, with most of his roles being overlooked by stronger performances in the same film (Hollywoodland) or giant monkeys. And those were his GOOD movies, outnumbered by his bad films and flops. Splice may not be the film that finally brings him back to the upper level, but starring in the action film Predators certainly won't hurt. He's the second-best part of this film, his performance as the dissenting voice to beginning this project in the first place to finding himself caring for this young woman who he has helped raise. Sarah Polly is less fun to watch, as she comes off as obstinate and immature. Elsa has her good points too; she's nerdy, funny and isn't opposed to a fully-clothed quickie when the need arises. She's also a driven worker, though her moral compass seems to need some tweaking. Not that I'm complaining much in that regard; her journey through experimental motherhood undergoes some bumps and bruises, but they also are the driving force when the film changes tack in leading to the film's conclusion. But the best performance in the film may be the one non-speaking role of Dren. Let me say first that the special effects on Splice are amazing in that Dren comes alive, her movements graceful sometimes innocently meek, her voice a high-pitched chirp. Her apparent innocence in the film's beginning makes the film that much more tragic when she begins to lean down the dark path. And French actress Delphine Chaneac deserves ample credit for her role, in which she had to communicate not only with Clive and Elsa but also the audience every thought that she wanted to express, and with every smile, frown and embarrassed look she did so smartly and wonderfully.

Okay, she's still kinda cute
The film doesn't have much in the way of secondary characters, as most of the film revolves around the above three pretty much nonstop. David Howlett, best known for his Stargate character Dr. McKay as well as starring in pretty much every Natali film to date, is an asshole of a boss who doesn't do much more than that. Brandon McGibbon plays Clive's scientist brother. He doesn't do much. Simona Maicanescu might be the best of the bunch but she, too, isn't present much as Howlett's superior.It's often a strain on a film that the main focus must be constantly maintained on so few major characters, but here it works out. What the film may lack in secondary roles it makes up for by getting the most it can out of its stars the whole time.

Okay, not so cute anymore
I wasn't sure what I was getting into with Splice, but with great special effects, no worse than good acting from the cast involved and great storytelling, Splice showed me a film that wasn't a horror film until it had to be, and in doing so became in my opinion the best horror film I've seen this year. Good enough for #10 on my Top 10 List, I'd recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different to see.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks! I'll be taking Friday off, so I'll see you back here on Monday, Nobember 28'th for my next review. Hint: It probably won't come anywhere near my Top 10 List. If it does, then the list must be broken.

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