Remember that old Chiffon margarine ad campaign about what happens when you try to fool Mother Nature? It gets a creepy, CGI-enhanced spin in this thriller about a pair of scientists (played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) who get a little too wrapped up in their pursuit of a genetic breakthrough. The cruddy Saw series might be the horror franchise of the moment, but there’s a rich undercurrent of smart, original films for moviegoers seeking a spinetingle or two, and Splice is a fine — albeit flawed — example.
Synopsis: Superstar genetic engineers Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) specialize in splicing together DNA from different animals to create incredible new hybrids. Now they want to use human DNA in a hybrid that could revolutionize science and medicine. But when the pharmaceutical company that funds their research forbids it, Clive and Elsa secretly conduct their own experiments. The result is Dren, an amazing, strangely beautiful creature that exhibits uncommon intelligence and an array of unexpected physical developments. And though, at first, Dren exceeds their wildest dreams, she begins to grow and learn at an accelerated rate — and threatens to become their worst nightmare.
Video: Splice comes with a VC-1 encode on a single-layer BD25, and is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio — a basic conversion for a basic film. Like a lot of modern movies, there isn’t anything particularly cinematic about Splice; I’m sure decent money must have been spent on its digital effects, but they’re fairly subtle, and all the scenes — even the climax, which takes place outdoors — feel small and enclosed. This was probably intentional, and it’s certainly nothing out of the ordinary, but the end result is that visually, Splice fits in alongside your average rom-com — there isn’t a lot of production value on display, and the 1080p transfer, while lacking many noticeable flaws, ultimately feels like sort of a waste.
Audio: Ironically, Splice‘s lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack boasts more range than the video, with plenty of dynamic range to heighten the scary moments; it makes for a nice counterpart to the somewhat claustrophobic visual component.
Special Features: Disappointingly slim. Aside from the DVD/digital copy included in the bundle, the only extra is “A Director’s Playground: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice,” a 35-minute featurette that shows you pretty much exactly what you’d expect from its title. It’s fine, as these things go, but as the disc’s only bonus feature, it’s a letdown.
Bottom Line: Part icky B-movie thriller, part thoughtful scientific commentary, Splice is a hybrid just like its freaky star. The rave reviews it enjoyed early on were probably as much a reaction to the sad state of mainstream horror as they were about the movie itself — Splice is funny, clever, and creepy, but not as much as it thinks it is, or probably should have been. And like a lot of thrillers, it’s so focused on the buildup that by the time we arrive at the payoff, it stumbles. All these quibbles aside, Splice is eminently Netflix-able, especially this time of year.