The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



My motto for horror movies is this: If you're going to do horror, be horrific. Many horror pictures fail to adhere to this concept, which is why so many of them are awful. Why play it safe in a genre that, by its very definition, is meant to be completely un-safe? This year, The Human Centipede had the guts to be horrific, and so does Splice. Both films are willing to go a step or two beyond where most in their genre will go. This is precisely what makes them effective. Someone (it may have been Wes Craven) once said that a good horror movie makes you feel as though you're in the hands of a maniac, i.e. someone who will break all the rules and really try to unsettle you. If that's your idea of entertainment - and if you're a true horror buff, it ought to be - then Splice is a cause for real celebration.

Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody play Elsa and Clive, two genetic engineers who are also in a serious relationship. Their hard work pays off when they mash together multiple types of animal DNA to create these strange, fleshy, blob-like creatures. The implications of this breakthrough could mean finding cures for various human diseases. Ethically, they are forbidden from reconfiguring their work to incorporate human DNA, but Elsa feels that pushing the boundaries is what science is all about. She convinces Clive to go along with her scheme, secretly, for no other reason than to "see if we're right."

They do indeed put some human DNA into their mixture and end up with a fetus that develops at an accelerated rate. Dubbed "Dren" (and played in later stages by Delphine Chaneac), the fetus grows to resemble a human girl, albeit one with a larger head, far-set eyes, spindly legs, and a spiked tail. The thing looks close enough to human that it taps into Elsa's maternal instincts; she treats Dren almost as a child, nurturing and teaching her, much to Clive's discomfort. They eventually have to take her out of the lab and hide her in an old farmhouse. Then things change as Elsa's troubled childhood begins to impact upon her relationship with their creation as it enters its "adolescent" period.

This is all good, creepy stuff. On one level, Splice explores an age-old scientific fear: what if some new species was created and then found to be uncontrollable? The movie is smart about the ethical issues involved in genetics research, pondering whether the possible dangers of DNA splicing/cloning possibly outweigh any potential benefits. Director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) very effectively mines suspense from Elsa and Clive making this being, then trying to assess its unexpectedly evolutionary qualities. As a science-run-amok thriller, Splice is extremely effective.

Underneath that is an even more intriguing level. Natali's screenplay deals with issues of parenthood and attachment. Elsa doesn't want kids, yet has something awakened when Dren comes along. The movie is, essentially, a horror movie about parenthood. It deals with two people coming to understand a being they have created - one who develops a mind of its own and ends up rebelling against those who gave it life in the first place. I don't want to ruin all the specifics, so I'll just say that there's a very Freudian undertone to the story in the way it addresses attachment issues between parents and children.

And then there's the third act, which goes to a very, very shocking place. This will be the part that divides audiences. Some will find what happens deeply unsettling, and they will admire Splice's willingness to seek out the truly horrific. Others may be offended, or find the denouement silly. I think that, if you pay attention, Natali lays all the groundwork to make this a natural (and satisfying) payoff to his story. I also think it's part of what makes Splice near-great. The events of the last half-hour are the stuff that nightmares are made of. Rather than going for a "safe" horror feel, the director walks you right up to the edge, then dangles you off it. He reveals some of the movie's true themes, which are more complicated than you initially realize. Ultimately, the film is a cautionary tale about a scientific experiment gone wrong, but it's also an examination of some of human nature's darkest sides which, as we all know, sometimes are played out between parents and children.

Splice is intelligent, it's daring, it's well made, and it's disturbing as hell. Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody give strong performances that ground everything otherworldly that happens. The horror genre has largely grown stale lately, especially in the wake of way too many "reboots" of classic titles. Here is a fright flick that is completely original, that takes you to uncomfortable places and abandons you there. If you care at all about horror, do not miss Splice under any circumstances.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Splice is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Home Video. The Blu-Ray comes with one bonus feature, "A Director's Playground," a 35-minute look at Vincenzo Natali in action on the set. What I like about this, as opposed to most behind-the-scenes segments, is that it simply shows us unedited footage of Natali conducting his business. During the film's goriest sequence - a public exhibition gone terribly wrong - he acts as a cheerleader, gleefully prodding the actors and the extras to react to special effects that won't be added until later. There is footage of him working on body movement exercises with the actresses who play Dren at different ages. And for a tense scene at the beginning, we see him act out the entire sequence for the cast and crew, to make sure everyone knows what he envisions. Natali seems to make his sets fun, despite the often gruesome nature of the stories he tells. This feature gave me great appreciation for his technique.

As you would expect, the Splice Blu-Ray is excellent on all technical levels. This is one of my favorite films of 2010, and I hope it finds a wide audience on home video

Splice is rated R for horror violence, language and some sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.