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Sunday, December 19, 2010

WTF? On Film # 10 - Splice

MEGA SPOILERS Okay, we all knew this day would come and I would write another WTF? On Film post. Regular followers of this blog or me on Twitter or Facebook know I'm a hard taskmaster when it comes to films - very rarely do they register on my LOVE IT scale, but just as rarely do they figure on my SCALE OF RAGE. As a screenwriter myself, I'm always willing to believe that various things could have gone wrong or perhaps the script didn't translate to the film version; it's only occasional I believe films to be so DEEPLY FLAWED that they end up on this list (hence there being only ten articles over the last eighteen months - two years or so, instead of hundreds).

And it's a shame I feel I have to add Splice to this list, because writer/director Vincent Natali is responsible for the awesome Cube, one of the few movies I actually do LOVE. But since I believe all films should be considered on a "case by case" basis (no "get out of jail free" cards here - or equally, automatic condemnation on the basis of a previously crap film), I'm going to have to lay out my case for not liking Splice even one little bit:

It's really predictable. You know that classic story, Frankenstein? Well Splice is it, updated. Only not even half as good. Which is a shame, cos you would have thought with decades and decades of new technology, the writers could have come up with some *new* element to play with here, y'know that whole "same but different" thing. Instead, all that's substituted is animal genes for body parts. They even name the characters Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) after characters in The Bride of Frankenstein. Yawn. But even so, this would not have been enough to add it to my WTF? List, so let's look at the rest of the evidence.

The characters are really two dimensional. Clive's the peace-loving hippy who wants to change the world; Elsa's the hard ass who wants to get there first. They have a hysterical male boss and a hard ass female boss. Clive's brother handily works in the same lab and knows about everything, but just as handily keeps his mouth shut until the very end when he gets himself - and the hysterical male boss killed. Dren - the creature they create - is sweet and innocent and serene when she's female; when she turns into a male she wants to kill and shag everybody.

For 2D characters, Clive and Elsa are hardly consistent. Considering Clive is such a peace-loving hippy and Elsa is such a hard ass then, they handily swap entire personalities in the first half after the "birth" of Dren: Clive wants to kill the specimen Dren, whereas Elsa - always resistant to Clive's desire for a child of their own - suddenly turns into a nurturing mother. This abruptly changes AGAIN when Clive begins to empathise with Dren's plight when she's locked in the barn alone from prying eyes - and Elsa suddenly turns abusive, cutting off Dren's tail after provoking her, by taking her beloved cat away. Whilst there is some allusion to a back story of Elsa's whose own mother was abusive - and the troubles between Clive and Elsa's relationship they attempt to fill with science - it felt too me far too little, too late and all rather contradictory - and not in a good way.

But again, poor characterisation is too often the nature of the game in films, so really it was these two elements that gave me THE RAGE:

She was asking for it # 1. The underlying theme of Splice appears to be thus: Men are weak - and successful women will always have to put up with them cheating. Yes, that's right. Despite the fact Clive has raised Dren practically as his daughter - and claims to love her when she wants to jump from the barn roof - he has absolutely no moral trouble sticking it to her, despite the fact she has only ever exhibited the faculties of an adolescent girl, which borders on paedophilia to my mind. But hey! The girl's a genetic freak so fair game! She came ONTO HIM - it's not statuary rape at all, but perfectly understandable, 'cos the GIRL IS HOT. Of course Elsa walks in at *exactly the wrong time* and sees them at it. And of course, she's horrified - but not by Clive's appalling breach of trust, but by the effect it will have on their relationship. Later Clive even attempts to justify himself by pointing out Elsa has done lots of horrible things to Dren herself: never mind poor Dren, who hasn't a clue whether she's coming or going - let's play the blame game instead.

She was asking for it # 2. At the end of the movie the female Dren "dies" and becomes a male, something to do with her lizardy gene splicing I suspect and more than half borrowed off Jurassic Park. In comparison to the female Dren who was sweet and serene then, male Dren is a HARBINGER OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION. Oh, and rape. That's right: pissed that his "mother" Elsa abused him, the male Dren makes sure he despatches the males and then RAPES ELSA. I'd like to point out this film is a 15, not an 18 - and the way in which the rape is dealt with is both gratuitous and graphic, with Elsa screaming and crying, her head bobbing back and forwards as he fucks her. Whilst the back of the DVD box promises "strong violence, sex and sexual violence", the latter can mean anything between sexual intimidation, groping and actual rape, so it seems to come right out of the left field in comparison with the tone of the rest of the movie; this was not a film in which I had expected to deal with images like that. And it pissed me RIGHT OFF because it didn't strike me as even vaguely necessary to tell this story... oh but wait! There's an epilogue and OF COURSE Elsa is pregnant by the male Dren (despite having had sex with Clive during the course of the movie as well, btw) and she's signing the baby over to her sciencey colleagues in the name of "progress" for squillions of dollars. Ground breaking? Um, predictable. Again.

In conclusion:

I think the real tragedy of Splice is, that as a sci fi/drama, it could have worked really well; forcing Clive and Elsa to face up to the consequences of their playing God to the female Dren could have produced some strong pathos and even a little comedy along the way. What's more, had Clive and Elsa been more consistent in their motivations, we could have got more of a "feel" for their positions on how far science should go and where lines should be drawn between what's possible and what should stay in the imagination. A stand out moment had to be when Clive attempted to drown the child Dren, only for them to discover she had aqua lungs, with Elsa saying, "How did you know... You did know, right?" But with Clive swapping back from wanting to kill Dren just as quickly, impact felt lost to me. At the end of the day, it felt like all the "action" had been "back ended" into the resolution - most notably the last fifteen minutes - for sensationalism's sake.


Splice on IMDB

Splice on Rotten Tomatoes

Splice Trailer

Splice - the website


Janet van Eeden said...

You had me at "She was asking for it." It sounds horrible and the gratuitous rape scene unforgivable. The film makers getting their rocks off vicariously. I will avoid at all costs. My eyes are still bleeding just from reading about the rape scene. Ouch.

Lucy V said...

I couldn't stop thinking about it all night last night, I was so angry. But I feel better now knowing I sat through it so you now don't have to, Janet! : D

Janet van Eeden said...

Yes I think that was valuable service in the interest of solidarity Lucy! :) And as I said to you on twitter, Mary Shelley, the author of the original Frankenstein, was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the first feminist ever. She and her mother would have been horrified that this film was used as a "homage" to her work when it was just another excuse to exploit women. So good on ya, Lucy!