Sunday, April 17, 2011

SPLICE (2010)

I can't handle horror movies and I usually avoid them like the plague. But there is the occasional film that has such a promising plot that I feel compelled to see (like Daybreakers (2009) or The Orphanage (2007)). I just got back from watching Splice and decided that I might as well write the review immediately, because I'm not going to sleep tonight. Or ever.

Splice is about a scientist couple who perfect animal gene splicing and now want to push the boundaries and try human-animal splicing. Their funders refuse to touch such a morally and scientifically complex subject matter, but the couple decide to do it anyway in secret. And Dren is born.

Dren is such a superb creation that, as she beguiles you with her charming face and rosebud lips, she horrifies you with her stinging tail. She has that beautiful innocence of childhood in her eyes, but there is an inherent creepiness lurking beneath that sweetness. Her face is human, but her motions are quick, animalistic and predatory. She displays some utterly human emotions but then she has these horrendous bat wings. She was created with the sole intention of making the film-goer thoroughly uncomfortable (mission accomplished). No movie creature has evoked such disparate feelings in me, in a while. You may feel a changing range of emotions towards her: pity, love, fondness and loathing, but you always fear her. Perhaps because she represents the unknown. Or perhaps because she has bat wings and a scorpion tail.

She seems to have been (intentionally or otherwise) modelled on a figure from Bronzino's painting, "Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time". The figure I'm referring to is allegorical and has widely been interpreted to represent Deceit or Pleasure and Fraud. Very apt for Dren.

It's pretty hard to ignore the incestuous frenching and nippy-tweaking in the painting, isn't it? Again, this is incredibly relevant for Splice, because there are some scenes which will grab your eyeballs and make you squirm in your seat/ laugh nervously. And yet, like the Bronzino painting, it is important to remember that while the mother and son making out takes centre stage, the REAL story is being told in the background.

For a horror movie, Splice had surprisingly complex characters, especially the scientist couple for whom the movie-makers managed to create a very believable background. The inconsistency of human behaviour, where, in one day we manage to oscillate between calculating scientist, manipulative trickster, doting parent and product of our parents' insecurities is compellingly portrayed by Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley. Without realizing it, they become parents to Dren: the former reluctantly and the latter very eagerly. But as Dren grows up and experiences adolescent sexual urges, her relationship with her mother becomes fraught with envy, hate and frustration and she becomes infatuated with her father. Like all adolescent girls, she acts out (except, this adolescent has superhuman strength and a stinging tail). Most of us vow to never be like our parents, but one day you realize how much you are like your parents. Polley and Brody's response to Dren and her flashes of humanity are spot on and their devolution from scientist to parent to sexual being is a treat to watch.

No doubt this film will be viewed as a Frankenstein-esque cautionary tale about humanity's relentless march towards morally ambiguous discoveries and inventions. But interestingly enough, the movie does not decry scientific progress as dangerous; rather, it views progress as necessary and inevitable. The real questions posed are, are we wise enough to enter these uncharted waters? Can we be objective? The moment a creature whimpers or looks up at us with Disney eyes, can we stop ourselves from going, "awww"? On the other hand, if a creature is repulsive or bears traits of traditionally hated animals, can we resist the urge to pick up a shotgun and end it? Is our humanity a stepping stone or an impediment to truly discovering the meaning of biology and life?

At the end of the day, despite the cleverness this film displays at moments, it is a horror movie, so expect plenty of "Boo!" moments and why-the-hell-did-I-decide-to-watch-this-movie-alone moments, especially in the second half of the movie. You will hear complaints from many quarters that the second half degenerated into a typical horror flick. I don't think that was necessarily a bad thing: the set up in the first half is so well done, that the "mindless" second half becomes all the more fraught with excitement.

But more than just scaring you, this movie intends to provoke you, make you awfully uncomfortable and question your deep-seated fears. In the harsh, comforting light of day, one realizes that the movie makes some large leaps in character growth and sacrifices many established developments in order to give you a good and proper scare. Even so, if movies like Splice and Daybreakers are the future of the horror genre, then all you freak shows who "enjoy" horror films are in for a treat. Which is why I wholeheartedly recommend Splice to horror aficionados and people who aren't affected by horror elements in movies. For fellow milquetoasts, I assure you there is no need for bravado.

After the movie, I strongly felt the need for a shower to wash off the ick, but everybody knows that in a horror movie, the bathroom window is exactly the kind of thing a human-animal hybrid would burst through, and wiping the condensation off the mirror will only reveal the creature standing behind you, so I don't think I'll be showering ever again.

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