Friday, June 4, 2010

Splice: Review

Today marks the release of Splice, a dark scifi-horror tale of genetic engineering from director Vincenzo Natali. I am a huge fan of Cube, Natali's first film that brought him into the spotlight. As anyone would know, Splice cannot be considered in the same regards or in the same light as Cube. Going into Splice wanting a film like Cube would be a big mistake. The two films just cannot be compared. That said, I was still excited to see what Natali, along with financial backing from Guillermo Del Toro, could do with a larger budget, and a studio behind him. The result? A bit of a mess.
Splice is far from a bad film. Its problems can be felt but picking them out specifically can be complicated. From what I took away from the film, it suffered from one major flaw. It felt like it was trying to be two separate films. I enjoy movies that blur the line between genres, and that I suppose could have been an early intention, but it would be unfair to place the blame at that specific junction. Splice is ironically the splicing of a dark cautionary tale of bio-ethics and moral scientific practices, and a late night b-movie. Now anyone who reads this blog is aware that I enjoy B-movies. But they are something you have to be into to enjoy. They take a bit of getting used to, and they certainly can't take themselves too seriously. A b-movie has to in the end know it is a b-movie. Splice takes itself very seriously, and for the most part is should. But as those b-movie elements begin to emerge in the third act, they seem hokey, out of place, and at times unintentionally humorous.
As the film starts we are thrown right into the thick of things as scientists are pushing the boundaries in genetic engineering. The entire first act of the film, shot with mostly cold colors, leaves us uncomfortable as seemingly normal human beings mess with the natural order. This is all obvious setup for what is to come, but underneath the film really does portray a sense of timeliness, and really speaks to the nature of bio-ethics. In fact I feel this film would have probably worked better as a novel than a film (a bit of inner dialogue to understand character motives, and the suspension of belief that books have when we can create the visuals ourselves). The disturbing nature of what science and we as people are capable of is the film's strong point. We get only hints and glimpses as to what brought these characters to the psychological state they are in and why they would make such choices. At its core it is a film about bad decisions. The scientists get caught up in their work, they try to stay distant, but they get too involved, they take too many risks and it becomes personal. Something I am sure many in the scientific world understand. You pour your whole life into your work and it has to mean something.

Now this deeply dark and disturbing underpinning is why the more action oriented and mainstream elements do not work. At times it feels in order to get the audience to understand the concept they have to exaggerate it. So somethings begin to get further and further out of control. This is where the film falls apart. It is hard to explain precisely without actually spoiling the plot.
So while it feels that Natali has abandoned his independent claustrophobic and kafka-esque roots from something more mainstream, I have to wonder how much of the film was him, and how much was the studio. I have a feeling the dark Robin Cook bio-ethic caution tale is all him and probably was his originally pitched script. The rest seems to be things the studio had kicking around and needed to put into a movie somewhere (or atleast their need to revamp the film Species, which actually worked in its own campy way). I will give him a hand for trying and hope that maybe he can return to a smaller project that more suits his simplistic style. And I understand the studio's attempt to turn what was probably an amazing script into a marketable summer film. But splicing the two together may have been in poor judgement. After all you try too hard, with too much, and you may just release something you didn't intend to. (Yes, that was a not-so-subtle jibe at the released-monster b-movie plot of the film).
I would give this film two separate scores for each of the two separate films that are mashed together, but sadly the film has to be taken as a whole, and the third act and regrettable ending really ruined it for the rest of the class.

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