Sometimes if you miss something during the Sundance Film Festival you may get the chance to catch it a few months down the line up on the big screen. Lots of movies premiere at Sundance after having already been picked up by a major studio. This time around comes Splice, a new Warner Bros./Dark Castle Entertainment pickup from director Vincenzo Natali, who also brought us another Sundance cult classic, Cube, back in 1997.
With Guillermo del Toro’s name attached as an executive producer one can’t help but be instantly intrigued as he has yet to deliver anything that wasn’t awesome. Whether behind the camera himself (Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone, the two Hellboys, Pan’s Labyrinth) or as producer (The Orphange) he manages to bring something humanly fantastical in every sense to the screen every time.
But when you also throw in Joel Silver and his Dark Castle Entertainment to the mix (House on Haunted Hill, Thir13een Ghosts, Ghost Ship, Gothika, House of Wax, The Reaping, Orphan, Whiteout and Ninja Assassin) one can’t help but wonder how the two will, well, splice together. And that’s exactly what happens. Somewhere around the one hour mark things go completely awry and the markings of one producer’s guiding hand clearly become the other and it’s blatantly obvious which influences came from whom.
Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) and Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) are two leading edge scientists working for a genetics research company called Newstead Pharmaceuticals. They've just combined a mixture of animal DNA to form new creatures they’ve named Fred and Ginger who produce enzymes that can potentially cure everything from cancer to diabetes. Elsa, continually asking “What could possibly go wrong?” wants to take their research to the next level and introduce human DNA to the mix even while Clive is at least slightly resistant but goes along in spite of the ethical and legal ramifications if something happens.
At first they have no luck but then Elsa asks Clive to try one more human sample and of course, as it always goes, the human DNA takes and a new species begins developing at an alarming rate. Clive instantly wants to terminate the project as they originally only wanted to see if they could do it but Elsa decides she wants to keep the new creature alive and bring it to term. A crossbreed is born looking something like a human rabbit with a defense stinger in its tail and a convenient affinity for Tic Tacs the same way Elsa keeps packing them away. Now Elsa and Clive have to keep their new experiment under wraps even though Elsa has named her Dren (Delphine Chanéac, a surefire future Mr. Skin celebrity.)
After all hell breaks loose at a Newstead shareholders conference when Ginger evolves into a male and kills off Fred, Elsa sees Dren as a way to right herself in the science world even though Clive grows increasingly attracted to/frightened by Dren who is evolving into a winged nubile nude model and begins making advances towards him in Elsa’s abandoned family barn where they’ve been hiding her. If you can’t guess what happens by the end of the film based on the Fred and Ginger episode alone then foreshadowing is beyond you as all the plot twists start getting hammered home.
Director Natali, along with his writing partners Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, try to bring something new to the table but their efforts are squandered in the final act. Jeff Vice of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, a fellow Sundance press attendee, came back to see if the new polished version was any better as he said the film ran about two full hours and seemed a bit flabby. What he says was trimmed was all from the set-up where what really needed a do-over is clearly the last half hour.
Things get so dumbed down that after Elsa asks “What could possibly go wrong?” for about the millionth time you can’t help but say to yourself, “Apparently everything.” What starts out as a tongue-in-cheek film that's slightly smarter than most recent sci-fi outings goes for broke with everything from an over-the-top sex scene to the weirdest case of incest in years. So if you don’t mind a hybrid of Species, Del Toro’s own Mimic and Gremlins along with a cliché-riddled finale, then folks, step right up and see Dren: The Asexual Hodgepodge of Science Run Amuck Creature Features.