CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Splice (2010)
Like Embryo's Victoria before her, Dren is lonely, confused and unsocialized, and Elsa - especially at first -- treats the creature has her own biological child. There are good reasons for this, as the film makes clear in the later sequences set on Elsa's wintry and foreboding family farm. Specifically, Elsa used her own DNA to create the "human" part of Dren.
Then, as an adolescent, Dren turns her burgeoning physical affections unexpectedly towards her "father," Clive...much in the same fashion as occurred in Embryo.
Yet, what makes Splice more than just a modern variation on an old tale like Embryo is its laser-like focus on the concept of Elsa and Clive not just as bad scientists, necessarily..but as bad parents.
Together, Elsa, Clive and Dren form a family unit, yet the parents here don't seem to take their familial responsibilities seriously. Dren wants to bond with the adults, and still they just consider her a "mistake" they made after -- on a whim --noting "what's the worst that could happen?" when they decided to make a life.
Truly, this movie concerns those things that occur when irresponsibility conceiving a life is followed by a deeper moral wrong: irresponsibility in rearing that life. Elsa quickly proves to be a psychologically-troubled, capricious Mother-Figure, playing out her own personal family drama on this new and innocent creation. One scene finds Elsa cruelly and vindictively strapping Dren to a surgical table, cutting off a portion of her "alien" anatomy. It's genuinely disturbing. The first thing Elsa does is take off Dren's clothes, an indication that the girl is not human to her; no more than a specimen. A mother's "love" can be taken away just like that.
Then, weak-willed Clive makes the ultimate physical and emotional betrayal and has sexual intercourse with Dren, an adolescent who considers him a father-figure. At best he's weak. At worst, he's monstrous.
|Grown-up Dren, with Mom looking over her shoulder.|
And that's the key to understanding Splice and it's modus operandi..
The "monsters" here are Elsa and Clive -- two arrogant, flippant, self-involved scientists/parents, who -- through their ill-considered actions -- irreparably harm another individual.
Dren may be genetically different from her parents, but she is nonetheless a result of her biological nature (which they created) and her terrible upbringing (which they are also responsible for).
Dren might be inhuman, but Elsa and Clive are inhumane.
Watching this film, you'll feel tremendous sympathy for the Dren character. When she commits the equivalent of a rape at film's end (when she is no longer quite the Dren we know...) the horrid act may be all about instinct and the need of all living things to reproduce. Or it may be about the fact that she was -- if not raped by Clive -- at least emotionally and sexually violated by a man she trusted and loved. What did she learn from this act? And from Elsa's cruel, heartless domination?
Like parent like kid? Is this the generational cycle of violence and abuse, made manifest? Dren was abused, and now she is the abuser.
From the movie's very first shot -- in which we gaze out of the birth canal at parents Clive and Elsa -- Splice asks viewers to contextualize the film as a story about what it means to be a parent. It asks the viewer to weigh this couple's behavior, and ask some important moral questions about it. Is this another life or is this just an experiment? Is this about another being's sovereignty and rights, or is it about "what we can learn?"
As parents, what are our responsibilities to new life?
It's very heady stuff, and if you read this blog often, you know I tend to admire horror movies that function gracefully on more than one level. It's great if a horror movie is scary, for instance. But a genre film achieves lasting greatness when it tells us something about our own human existence. I think Splice pretty well qualifies on that rarefied second front.
All along through the film, I kept thinking of my own actions -- my own behavior as a parent -- since the birth of my son. I was aghast at how easily Clive and Elsa could rationalize away the pain and suffering they put Dren through. How could you treat your children like this? Like property.
The answer, of course, is that human adults abuse children every day. Although Clive and Elsa possess special talents vis-a-vis their creation of life, they aren't out-of-the-norm in how they see child rearing, apparently.
In Splice, I especially admired how the film mirrors the life of a parent, from child's conception through adolescence, but with these two "bad" parents as our surrogates and negative examples.
When Dren is first born, Elsa and Clive lose a lot of sleep, have no time for intimacy, and worry about things like messy feeding times. And while taking care of their child around the clock, their work at the office suffers.
Anyone who has raised a baby knows how authentic these moments feel. Sleep deprivation. Frustration. Loneliness. But also great joy as your infant starts to become an individual with a real personality and takes amazing first steps into the larger world: speaking, relating, learning. These passages involving Dren's growth and development in Splice are simply stellar, and deeply affecting in a very human, very intimate way.
But this is a horror film, of course, and something goes wrong. At some point, Elsa and Clive forsake their roles as parents, and when -- threatened by Dren's rebellion in adolescence -- try to write her off as an "experiment." They try to control her; reign her in; make her act in the fashion they desire.
Of course, this is part of parenting I have not yet really experienced, but will, no doubt. At some point, children stop being cuddly and fun, and start to become demanding, rebellious and self-directed. A good parent allows that growth to happen responsibly and a bad parent, I guess, begins to act antagonistically and imperiously. Bad parents fail to recognize their children as individuals and not as extensions of their own desires. That's what happens to Clive and Elsa. When they don't like what Dren has done, they shout, "this experiment is over." Like that's the end of it. Like the life just never existed, never flourished, never interacted with them.
So yes, Splice is a view of arrogant, out-of-control, cutting-edge science. But more than that, even, Splice is a view of arrogant, out-of-control, modern parenting.
Which do you think is the bigger threat, going forward?
Splice works better as twisted family drama than as straight-up horror film. The battle sequences in a wintry thicket at the climax feel pre-programmed and rote, and I found myself wishing the story could have been resolved through character interaction rather than special effects sequences and shovel bludgeonings. But the first two-thirds of this Frankenstein story will really tug at your heart. Dren is a fantastic creation, and the film's special effects never disappoint.
The problem is that you come to identify so much with Dren that at film's end -- when the makers want to put Dren back in the "monster box" -- you can't quite believe it. You can't quite get on board. Not after you've seen how her parents treat her. Not after you've seen her alone in that barn loving her pet cat...her only companion.
And also, who can truly blame Dren for her final, violent acts? Her parents had it coming. In fact, as the final scene proves, Elsa is willing to make the same mistake twice.
What's the worst that could happen?