Saturday 24 July 2010

Splice Mines of Kessell*

Splice 2010 US
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Screening at cinemas now

Woohoo! Another corker genre movie from one of the more interesting artists working in film... Vince Natali.

I first became aware of this guy’s work about ten years ago when I was sitting on my own in the old Metro cinema in Rupert Street (before it became The Other Cinema and died), watching his amazing film Cube (couldn’t get any of my friends to go with me to see this thing so from that day I was forced to become the Harbinger of Natali for a while). I didn’t know much about it at the time but, frankly, any movie which just puts a number of actors in the same single cramped set (doubling as different chambers with the occasional lighting change) was going to get me into the cinema. What I saw that day was both an “actors” film and a directorial tour de force. The subsequent appearance of a not very good sequel and an appallingly “missing the point” prequel, studio lead by other directors, is perhaps a testament to just how influential (the first Resident Evil movie has a very blatant homage to it) and provocative this movie was... it got people’s attention.

The next movie I saw by Natali was his lesser known (for some bizarre reason) and bigger budget sci-fi thriller Cypher. This time he had a couple of “known” actors in it (Jeremy Northam doing his usual and very welcome Cary Grant homage and Lucy Liu) and the film zipped along in a very Philip K. Dickian way and, although it was very easy to see each twist along the way long before it actually happened (a problem in Splice too), it was nevertheless a fine, entertaining, moody piece of film-making... with perhaps a touch of cyberpunk thrown in for good measure. Also a film I’d recommend... just on the basis that more people should know about this movie.

And now we come to Splice. This is the third film I’ve seen by this director and, to be honest, it played out pretty much as I was expecting it too... which is handy, actually, because I was expecting it to be quite good. Not great but... not too shabby, either.

Again, this time around we have two known actors taking the joint leads.

Adrien Brody is in here, who seems to turn up in almost every other genre thriller, fantasy, sci-fi or horror going just lately... King Kong, The Jacket, The Village, Giallo, Predators. He’s pretty solid in this.

And then you have the one and only Sarah Polley! Yeah, I could mention her track record includes absolutely mesmerising performances in films like Hal Hartley’s No Such Thing, Isabel Coixet’s My Life Without Me or Zack Snyder’s brilliant remake of Dawn of the Dead. I might even mention the critical waves she’s made as a director in her own right (Away From Her). But let’s really knock your socks off with just how good this gal Polley is with a little bit of movie trivia everybody seems to conveniently forget these days... so I’ll start this back from the top. You should all go and see Splice because it has Sarah Polley in it... the little girl from The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen all grown up! There... hopefully that got ya.

Ok. So Splice. I saw a trailer and read some pre-release hype on it somewhere (not something I’m usually apt to do but you couldn’t escape it these last few months) and it certainly looked like Natali was poaching on Cronenberg territory here... which is pretty much the way it is. Splice is, very much Cronenbergian in its basic concerns (which is not unfamiliar territory to Polley either, who may also be remembered for her supporting role in Cronenberg’s eXistenZ). It’s very much a biomechanical take on the age old Frankenstein story and this is very much giving a nod in Brody and Polley’s character names of Clive (after Colin Clive, direct descendant of Clive of India, who played “Henry” Frankenstein in both Universal’s 1931 Frankenstein and its 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein) and Elsa (after Elsa Lanchester who played both the title role and Mary Shelley in The Bride of Frankenstein).

I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the two lead characters “gather the stuff of life around them”, to lazily paraphrase Shelley, and create a spliced something/human lifeform... but they forget, obviously, to heed good old Uncle Ben’s advice, “with great power comes great responsibility”... oh, hang on, wrong movie/comic... good advice though. Somebody should have said it to them.

One great thing about Splice is that it really isn’t a horror movie until right near the end when.... oh wait a minute... lets not get ahead of myself. It isn’t really a horror movie but Natali must have known that this is how the pitch would be received and perceived by its potential audience so although it’s really not about big scares... it does tend to play around with the cinematic language of horror movies for a lot of it.

There’s a scene near the start of the movie, for instance, involving two slug-like creatures created by our “dashing scientist heroes” where everybody on screen is acting all “wow” and isn’t everything all fluffy bunnies and baby kittens and Natali paces it so you are expecting the absolute worst thing to happen and the suspense is slowly dissipated and you unwind as the scene turns out to be a fluffy bunny moment after all... but then of course, when a similar scene happens later in the movie, the worst does happen... which is kinda inevitable by this point as it’s the worst thing that can happen to the company putting up the money for the scientists so you just know what’s going to transpire... which is a shame because I really would have liked to have been taken by surprise at some stage in the proceedings.

The real star of the movie is the creature itself... starting as, presumably, CGI and then at some point “growing” into a real actress (one of whom is pictured above). This is a really strong performance, both from the effects crew and from the two actresses who play her. It’s a bit E.T-like at times but always with a threat hanging overhead.

And then we have some real problems with what seems to me like an overtly Hollywood ending for he last 20 minutes and I really can’t blame Natali for doing this... he needs to get his movie funded. But it’s a real shame because there is a point in the narrative where I feel things reached a natural ending. It didn’t peak and I’m sure a lot of the audience would have left disappointed but for me... that’s where things should perhaps have been left... at a point which is, after all, a very natural ending (without giving anything away I hope)... but then... well, for the last quarter of an hour/20 mins or so, the movie turns into an action/horror romp with chases and bloodletting and, well stuff I won’t bother telling you about but you’ve seen it all in umpteen teenage horror flicks (if you’re unlucky). This, for me, was the one big disappointing thing about this movie... and then, to pour salt on the wounds it has a little, 5 minute concluding scene put in which is obviously supposed to be some kind of twist ending but... really... after what just happened 5 minutes before... there’s no way the audience havent already worked this one out... apart from the three girls in the row in front of me who actually gasped when Sarah Polley stands up at the end... oh, really? You honestly didn’t see that coming?

But you know what? Never mind the possibly flawed ending... Splice is worth a watch as a taut little weird-science film for the current generation. If you like Vince Natali’s other movies and you’re into early Cronenberg... then Splice is well worth the price of the ticket!

And... you know... the little girl from The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen is in it! ;-)

*Okay... anybody who actually gets that reference in the title is seriously as sad as I am and you need to get out more!

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