Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's Father's Day, so off to Vincenzo Natali's SPLICE we go!

Designed as the perfect, ironic fix for Father's Day (or even better, Mother's Day), as well as a great monster movie, Frankenstein film, and lesson on the do's and do not's of parenting, SPLICE is all of these and more -- a scary journey into transgressive behavior of many sorts, from the ethical to the sexual to the corporate.  So much better than the usual Hollywood horror show, though it bears the Warner Bros logo, it is a mostly Canadian production (remember Last Night?), and this, more than anything, I suspect, accounts for its being a tad too good for the megaplex crowd.  (Though I must say that the small audience with whom we saw it today at New York City's AMC Empire 25, seemed very appreciative.)

Directed and co-written (with Doug Taylor and Antoinette Terry Bryant) by Vincenzo Natali, at left, who earlier gave us Cube, Cypher and the charming "Quartier de la Madeleine" vampire segment of  Paris, je t'aimeSplice proves his most mainstream movie to date, in which he sacrifices neither intelligence nor style.  His pacing is terrific (the film runs 104 minutes but seems considerably shorter), his use of humor proves spare but pointed, his movie referencing is underplayed enough not to seem self-congratulatory, while his sex scenes employ a particularly disturbing combination of heat and danger. My daughter, who treated me to the film for Father's Day pronounced it better than she had expected, "more a real movie than just a horror film."

While the screenplay telescopes events, the life of its more-or-less "heroine," Dren, seems telescoped, too, so there is both art and justice in this approach. Natali has cornered a cast that is probably better than necessary to bring this all off, which only adds to the pleasure ahead.  Because Splice, as does much of the best science fiction, deals in questions of ethics and morals, needs and desires, its characters in particular must seem true and believable, and so this casting pays off quite well. 

Sarah Polley (above, left) brings an effective combination of intelligence, neediness, anger and pain to her role of the female half of a crack team of scientists.  She's maturing as an actress and a woman, and here, for the first time that I recall, there is little left of the girlish demeanor we used to see. Adrien Brody (above, right), via his usual intensity and nerdy sex appeal, while tamping down his sometimes-tendency toward Nic Cage-like craziness, plays Polley's other half.  They make a fine team. And, in the very interesting role of Dren is an actress new to me,  Delphine Chanéac (shown below).  She can't speak, but, boy, can she communicate.  Though helped by some small but spectacular special effects, Ms Chanéac is memorable indeed.

Splice -- which should strike a number of familiar chords in the minds and hearts of many parents -- probably won't remain in theaters much longer.  But if you have a fairly large, hi-def TV, the film should prove nearly as scary and every bit as thought-provoking and fun on your home screen.

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