By Matthew Eppinette, CBC New Media Manager
Splice is a science fiction / horror film about genetic experimentation gone wrong. Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) are scientists working to combine strands of DNA from multiple animals to create a new organism that will generate proteins aimed at curing animal diseases. Achieving success in their animal experiments, Elsa is anxious to move on to working with human DNA. However, the pharmaceutical company for which they work is focused on generating quick profits on animal cures, and announces they are retooling the lab for protein research rather than DNA research.
Elsa convinces Clive to initiate a human DNA experiment, simply to see if they can get the genes to combine. Away from everyone else in the lab, they start the experiment, then move it to the next step, then to the next — each time promising one another they will stop the experiment before the step is complete — until a full-term creature is born (via an artificial womb).
Elsa quickly begins to treat the creature as a pet and then as a daughter, naming her Dren (nerd spelled backwards and perhaps a play on Eden). Clive, on the other hand, vacillates between wanting and trying to kill the creature and telling her that he loves her. As Dren quickly matures, she exhibits several childlike traits, including petulance, which is particularly dangerous given that she has a tail with a barbed stinger.
Elsa and Clive work increasingly hard to keep Dren a secret from the rest of the lab, while their earlier DNA experiment self-destructs and the protein research fails. The third act of the film takes a truly absurd (and sexually graphic) turn, and the denouement leaves open the possibility of a sequel (of course).
From a purely film-critical perspective, Splice is a mediocre offering at best. The foreshadowing is so heavy handed that it ruins any potential for genuine suspense. Everything that happens seems pretty obvious. In addition, there were several themes that were potentially interesting, but which were simply never developed. It is as if the writers threw in everything they thought of that might have a link to genetics. To cite but one example, there were indications that Elsa had an abusive childhood at the hand of her mother, which causes her anxiety about her potential as a mother. Did she inherit bad mothering? What kind of mother would she make? In the end, this theme is largely unexplored.
From a bioethics perspective, the trailer (below) mentions ethical concerns, so I hoped for a scene in which there would be some consideration of the ethics of what was going on. Unfortunately though, the full range of ethical exploration is contained in the trailer. Elsa’s utilitarian insistence that “millions of people are suffering and dying” and “if we don’t do it, someone else will” are all the warrant she needs. The counter argument is simply that regulation and public opinion are against it, and profits can be made from the animal experiments now. Are there not other arguments and perspectives worth bringing to bear?
While Elsa invokes a consequentialist view, she clearly has not given serious consideration to the potential consequences of her actions. Nor, for that matter, does Clive, in the choices he makes. In a scene late in the film, Elsa and Clive argue about right and wrong, but no basis for judging right and wrong are given, only “there are some things you just don’t do.” But why?
Perhaps I expect too much from a sci-fi/horror movie, even one that advertises itself with appeals to ethics. In the end, I simply cannot recommend Splice, even though it may prompt us to consider the basis on which we make moral judgments.
Splice is rated R for horror violence, language, and some sexuality