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Splice (review)

Mommy Issues

Science fiction horror movies have long been informing us that there are realms in which Man Was Not Meant To Meddle. This warning usually comes via a solemnly silly overblown cautionary tale that revels in its own exploitiveness — wow! look at the freakish product of mad science and man’s arrogance run amuck! isn’t it cool? — while simultaneously chiding us for agreeing with the filmmaker that yes, indeed, the freakish product of mad science and man’s arrogance run amuck really is pretty cool, isn’t it? “You think it’s cool?” such movies suddenly turn around and slap us somewhere round the middle of Act Two. “You’re gonna be sor-ree!”

Vincenzo Natali — who made the intriguing and original Cube more than a decade ago — has a new twist on this hoary subgenre: What if there were realms in which woman was not meant to meddle?
It’s not as progressive as it sounds. But you knew that already.

The realms are pretty much the same ones that man gets his comeuppance for meddling in: whatever scientific bugaboo is hot and controversial at the moment. So here we have geneticists Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley: Beowulf & Grendel, Dawn of the Dead) and Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody: Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Brothers Bloom), who have made a career of creating “multispecies morphogens,” and are about to debut their crowning glory: Fred and Ginger, a pair of horrific-looking blobs built up from the genes of many species that promise to, we’re told, supply the basis for countless new medications and treatments for all that ails humanity. Fred and Ginger are intriguing extrapolations of real current science, but the drama invented around them by Natali — who cowrote the script with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor — is hopelessly naive: the film pretends that the public response to Fred and Ginger would not be one of moral outrage. Moral outrage would only come as a result of Elsa and Clive’s next project: creating a “multispecies morphogen” that includes — as Fred and Ginger do not — human DNA.

Fred and Ginger would have been fodder enough for a thoughtful science fiction horror film, one that was genuinely concerned with exploring modern scientific ethics. But Natali appears more interested in serving up a kind of sexual torture, of the audience as well as of his protagonists. You’ve seen the posters and the trailers: Though Dren, the creature Elsa and Clive mad-science into existence, starts out life as a larval blob not too distinct from Fred and Ginger, within days she is adult size and not so weirdly exotic that she isn’t supermodel-hot. (Dren is played, as a “grownup,” by the very lovely French actress Delphine Chanéac, with just a few CGI enhancements.) Natali wants the, er, male members of his audience to want to fuck Dren. And the punishment he will dole out to Elsa for her overreaching into realms she was not meant to be meddling in will take on a particularly gendered tenor.

I was delighted with Splice, at first, to see that it featured a female scientist doing basically realistic work, and featuring a real actress, in Polley, in the role. But this is not a gender-blind part. The lead scientist here must be female because the horror that Natali wants to dole out is specifically of a female cast. (Though not, alas, in any way that is different from what big-budget, mainstream films typically dole out to women. There’s nothing feminist here.) Even Elsa’s motives are gendered in a way that those of male scientists in such movies are not, beyond the very generic undercurrent that runs through all such movies, in that they are, perhaps, about a male jealousy of female reproductive abilities. Elsa doesn’t want to be a mother in the usual way, because of issues with her own mother, and, indeed, her “mothering” of Dren is almost instantly downright psychotic. (Clive’s “fathering” leaves much to be desired, too, but he soon exits that role in Dren’s life in a way that Elsa never does.)

You don’t have to be clued in by the characters’ names — “Elsa” and “Clive” have Hollywood-Frankenstein connections — to know that this cannot end well. But on its way to its own uniquely distasteful ending, Splice is also neither B-movie cheesy enough nor X-Files sober enough to please in either direction. All it has, then, is the sexual torture. And that’s really not fun.


Watch Splice online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

MPAA: rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Nate

    Am I a bad person for thinking that your review actually makes the film sound more interesting? At least it seems like an ambitious failure.

  • Lady Tenar

    Yuck! This sounds like a cross between some generic female-punishing slasher film and “Species.”

  • Brian

    Not sure if you missed the part where the movie had nothing to do with feminism from the beginning? The two lead characters – a man and a woman – work together equally to create the thing called Dren. I think you wanted the movie to be about something that no one else involved had intentioned. You can’t even say the creature itself represents womanhood, because.. well, no spoilers from me. Great movie. Go see it!

  • http://antisocialjournal.wordpress.com/ Jon

    Personally, I love Natali. I find both Cube and the criminally underrated Nothing mindblowing. You should see Nothing. It’s absolutely brilliant (Although some may interpart it as mysogynist – but it can be interparted in many different ways).

    As for your review, it’s excellent. I will probably love this film, and I’m planning on see it in the theater. I also think Natali utilized “shock sexuality”,in an attempt to make sexuality more disturbing and dark (ala Blue Velvet). Still, I haven’t seen movie but this a good review that clearly illustrates your point.

  • Knightgee

    I think you wanted the movie to be about something that no one else involved had intentioned.

    Indeed, it seems like she wanted it to be about something interesting and well-thought out.

  • JoshDM

    This or Human Centipede?

  • Lisa

    Aah that’s a shame – I loved Cube and Cypher, but if it’s just torture porn, I’m out. but Sarah Polley doesn’t seem the type to be involved in that sort of thing.

  • Jessica

    Not sure if you missed the part where the movie had nothing to do with feminism from the beginning? The two lead characters – a man and a woman – work together equally to create the thing called Dren.

    Sorry, how is that not feminism again?

  • Ide Cyan

    I’ve seen the movie. (I won tickets to the Montréal premiere in a weekly newspaper contest, and have no affiliation with the people who made it.) I agree with some of MAJ’s concerns, notably in the doling out of traditionally gendered horror, which I do not want to downplay as an issue, but I liked the movie a lot more than she did.

    One of the review’s points, that:

    (…) Splice is also neither B-movie cheesy enough nor X-Files sober enough to please in either direction.

    is certainly true if those are those only options, but I come at Splice from a different perspective as a viewer, by considering it from a genre rather than a mainstream point of view, and by placing it in the tradition of Canadian horror/science-fiction movies (which include David Cronenberg’s early works, the Ginger Snaps trilogy, Natali’s own previous films, Lynne Stopkewich’s Kissed, Pin: A Plastic Nightmare, etc. and others I haven’t seen) as major forerunners. The exploration of body horror, unhealthy obsessions, and revisitation of genre tropes from an outsider perspective are notable parts of that tradition, and the Cronenberg intertextuality here is by no means less important than the Hollywood-Frankenstein connection. (Take that auditorium scene, to give you just one example!)

    It’s easy for a lot of horror movies (irrespective of nationality) to fall into b-movie cheesiness when the limitations of special effects and production values (which are often crucial for genre works) can shatter pretentions of a purely sober, straight-facedly serious approach, and the aim is to draw in audiences who are likely to only accept a movie based on whether it frightens them or allows them to take it as a joke. Big-budgeted Hollywood genre movies tend not to break out of the mold because they need enough common-lowest denominator appeal to recoup their budgets. Treading between those two extremes there are works whose moviemakers, and like-minded audiences, who are acquainted with the tropes of the genre, try to negociate a path between cheese and deadpan sobriety, so as to appreciate the kind of genre reflexivity that soberness cannot countenance and seriousness that a cheesy B-movie cannot afford lest it ruin the joke.

    (And, FWIW, some of the most memorable episodes of The X-Files, such as Darin Morgan’s contributions as a screenwriter, were *far* from “sober”.)

    Splice was picked up for distribution by Joel Silver at the Sundance Film Festival after it was already filmed. It’s not a Hollywood movie, it’s not an exploitation film, it’s not torture-porn, but it’s not a straightforward horror or SF film either. It’s an independent SF/horror film, a Canada-France co-production which is now getting a promotional push, from a major US studio, beyond the scope of what such a movie might typically get, so I don’t know how audiences will react. It’s likely to prove divisive as a work. I’m conflicted about it myself, but I would like to rewatch it and perhaps refine my reactions.

    Part of that big promotional push is playing up the splatterfest angle, but much of the visceral splatter and blood onscreen is not due to any torture inflicted on its characters. The woman sitting next to me in the theatre where I saw it averted her eyes in the very first few minutes of the movie, which were full of bodily fluids, which tie into the body horror theme, but which were not violent character torture in any way, whereas some of the film’s most violent scenes are depicted in a more understated, clinical manner.

    Another part of the promotion for the film plays up the Cautionary Tale angle, but again, that is advertising via cliché, and somewhat misleading, because the film is much less about the impact of the scientific breakthroughs on society than on its characters.

    I also come at the film from a feminist perspective, and see what is decidedly less than feminist in its approach to horror, though it fits in with the film’s themes so that I grudgingly cannot simply call it gratuitous (albeit avoidable), but I strongly appreciate the Elsa character played by Sarah Polley, not only for being a rarity as a brilliant working scientist demonstated as such, but for how well-realised she is as a character, in terms of advancing the plot, backstory, and personality. (Adrien Brody may have first billing, but in no way is Polley’s secondary to his character, though it is often shown from his perspective. Again, this is a Canadian film, and Sarah Polley is a multi-talented Canadian star: the part doesn’t just feature “a real actress”; by featuring her, Elsa gains even more importance in the realisation of the story.)

    Finally, I’ll also mention that this film unequivocally passes the Dykes to Watch Out For test, which so few movies do. (And for once, the trailers don’t give the whole film away.)

  • Henry

    Brian: “Not sure if you missed the part where the movie had nothing to do with feminism from the beginning?”

    Since when does something have to be specifically about feminism in order to have anti-feminist implications?

  • Ide Cyan

    Adding to the paragraph on horror cheese vs. sobriety: and also reaching for seriousness in spite of not always being able to afford photorealistic special effects. (Splice has high-quality special effects work, but conversely is very limited in number of sets and cast of characters.)

  • MaryAnn

    It’s not a Hollywood movie, it’s not an exploitation film, it’s not torture-porn, but it’s not a straightforward horror or SF film either.

    True. It is none of those thing.

    It’s an independent SF/horror film

    And that’s a good thing. I welcome more such movies.

    But I want them to be *good* independent SF/horror movies. This isn’t. When I say that *Splice* is neither cheesy enough nor serious enough to satisfy in either direction, I’m not comparing it to other movies but to itself. *Splice* has moments of outrageous cheese, but not enough of them if you want to laugh at a SF/horror movie. *Splice* has elements of SF drama, but not enough of them if you really want to think about such thing as scientific ethics and modern morality.

    If *Splice* is attempting to distinguish itself from Hollywood films, it hasn’t succeeded.

  • MaryAnn

    This or Human Centipede?

    If you really *must* see one of them, go with *Splice.* (I’ll try to get my review of *Centipede* up soon.)

  • Brian

    Ok, to the one person, it actually was pretty well thought-out and a good character study. Have you seen it or are just typing words?

    To other ones, the movie’s not about feminism. If a white and black man are working together in a movie, does that mean the movie’s about race relations? There is a theme of parenthood in the story, with the mother side of that relationship being more explored than the fatherhood. Maybe that’s where some people got confused?

  • Knightgee

    To other ones, the movie’s not about feminism. If a white and black man are working together in a movie, does that mean the movie’s about race relations? There is a theme of parenthood in the story, with the mother side of that relationship being more explored than the fatherhood. Maybe that’s where some people got confused?

    No one is confused. Maryann’s point as I understood it was that the movie is not saying anything interesting by putting a woman in as the protagonist in this Frankenstein-esque premise. It had the opportunity to actually address motherhood and the role of women in science in a way that was original and potentially feminist, by which we mean viewing women as real characters worth exploring and not just stock victims, but instead it fell back on tired cliches and the usual terrorization that horror movies subject the female victim to.

  • MaryAnn

    Maryann’s point as I understood it was that the movie is not saying anything interesting by putting a woman in as the protagonist in this Frankenstein-esque premise.

    Not only is it not saying anything interesting, it only puts a woman in the central for reasons specific to her gender — it could NOT be a man in the same role. The central character is female so she can be punished for her transgressions in a way that a male character could not be punished.

    To other ones, the movie’s not about feminism. If a white and black man are working together in a movie, does that mean the movie’s about race relations?

    You are correct, Brian: this movie is not ABOUT feminism. What it is about, however, connects to how female characters are treated by mainstream movies: that is, women are only allowed to be characters if their biological functions *as women* are involved. It’s sort of the unpleasant flip side of maleness being the default human state, as pop culture sees things.

    How would you feel if movies only ever gave us male characters when their capacity to impregnate a woman was required by the plot? And then, along came a movie that appeared, at first, to recognize men as being more than that… until the third act, when — sure enough! — here comes a plot twist that required this character to do his biological job as a man?

    I suspect you’d be pissed off. Can you even imagine such a scenario? Because that’s what women film fans live with all the time.

    There is a theme of parenthood in the story, with the mother side of that relationship being more explored than the fatherhood. Maybe that’s where some people got confused?

    No one is confused.

    it actually was pretty well thought-out and a good character study.

    As long as a woman’s “character” is confined to motherhood, or to her attitudes regarding such.

  • MaryAnn

    It had the opportunity to actually address motherhood and the role of women in science in a way that was original and potentially feminist,

    Or it could have not been about motherhood!

    Women are more than just their potential to be mothers, just as men are more than just their potential to be fathers.

  • CB

    To other ones, the movie’s not about feminism. If a white and black man are working together in a movie, does that mean the movie’s about race relations?

    Yeah it does, if the black man’s blackness is a critical part of the story.

    The way you do this movie so it has nothing to do with feminism — except tangentially and positively — is to just have it be two scientists, one of whom happens to be female but to no direct consequence, and just keep it the usual science fiction “Me go too far!” cautionary tale.

    Instead,

    The central character is female so she can be punished for her transgressions in a way that a male character could not be punished.

    And frankly I’m not interested in finding out exactly what that means.

  • Lady Tenar

    To all the people fussing about how this movie isn’t supposed to be “about feminism”: Why is that so many people think a film needs to be expressly “about” feminism in order to make statements about gender that are worthy of a feminist commentary? This movie sounds like it betrays the assumptions and prejudices of the filmmakers regarding women, which is worth discussing because it’s reflective of the limitations and the film industry and society in general. This is what pop culture analysis is for. Disney films aren’t “about race” but a lot of them sure make some pretty provocative statements about race without even meaning to and everybody talks about that (although a lot of people also bitch about the fact that those people talk about it…)

  • Knightgee

    Women are more than just their potential to be mothers

    I’m well aware of that and didn’t mean to imply otherwise. The last thing I would have wanted was a movie that just ended up making it about “the gift of motherhood” or something equally pedantic. A feminist outlook on motherhood could have been something as simple as the female character adamantly rejecting that expectation of her and her not being punished for doing so.

  • Lady Tenar

    This or Human Centipede?

    I just read a spoiler for the “shocking ending” of splice. It is indeed pretty twisted. But then I read a mere 2-paragraph synopsis of “The Human Centipede” and now “Splice” sounds like the Cosby Show.

    Sheesh, there sure are some sick and twisted people out there.

  • Martin Sane

    It is amazing how you manage to turn every second movie into a mysoginistic attack against womanhood and how most commentators here just nodd along without questioning your statements.
    I am totally with Brian on this one.
    Someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet didn’t get any relevant information from this review. Was it thrilling? Was it scary? How was the acting? How was the directing, the editing, the music and so on. All the information that make a review a review.
    I enjoy your blog in general, but I am slowly getting fed up. Just had the urge to let you know.

  • Maura

    Someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet didn’t get any relevant information from this review.

    I got all the relevant information I needed to help me make a decision whether or not I want to see it. (Maybe on DVD.)

    I don’t really understand the recent wave of commenters who complain that Maryann’s reviews aren’t a bullet-pointed list of technical items. No good review is; any reviewer filters what he or she sees through the lens of personal opinion and experience. I often find my tastes are very different from Maryann’s, but I’m still interested in seeing what she (and other reviewers) has to say. Getting others’ perspectives can help me see different angles of the same movie, and I feel that’s valuable.

    And yes, a movie that isn’t “about” feminism can still carry messages about it.

  • Lady Tenar

    It is amazing how you manage to turn every second movie into a mysoginistic attack against womanhood

    Um, she does nothing of the sort. She talks a lot about depictions of gender in film because it is something that is relevant to us all. She calls out misogyny often because there’s a fuck ton of it out there in popular culture. And, frankly, I think it only seems like “every second movie” because so many critics and writers in general are afraid to even touch this stuff for fear of being pigeonholed as a lame, “PC” chump. It takes guts these days to actually talk about something as uncool as feminism has become becuase you’re opening yourself up to all the complaints of people who flip out every time anyone shows a hint of feminist consciousness. MAJ has guts. And many of her commenters appreciate that. That’s not “not questioning”, it’s just agreeing.

  • http://antisocialjournal.wordpress.com/ Jon

    “But I want them to be *good* independent SF/horror movies.” – Honestly, great attitude. A film being independent does not mean it can be crap.

    I still think this will be great.

  • Lisa

    I read spoilers for this movie and MaryAnn is 100% correct.

    Thanks for the heads up on that centipede thing review – now I know to avoid it! Just reading the name of that wasted piece of celluloid makes me want to vomit.

  • CB

    I just read a spoiler for the “shocking ending” of splice. It is indeed pretty twisted. But then I read a mere 2-paragraph synopsis of “The Human Centipede” and now “Splice” sounds like the Cosby Show.

    Yeah, I broke down and read the Splice spoiler, too. And it’s kinda fucked up in and of itself that Splice isn’t the clear-and-away front-runner for most fucked up thing in cinema right now. Still won’t be watching it. :P

    I made the mistake of watching a trailer for Human Centipede. Yet another thing I’ve seen on the Internet that I cannot, despite my most sincere wishes and prayers, un-see.

  • MaryAnn

    Why is that so many people think a film needs to be expressly “about” feminism in order to make statements about gender that are worthy of a feminist commentary?

    and

    It is amazing how you manage to turn every second movie into a mysoginistic attack against womanhood

    I think it’s pretty clear — not just at this site, but everywhere in the world — that some people do not want to have their complacency rocked. Or even nudged. Or even pointed out.

    All film — from Hollywood, from indie filmmakers, from nations other than the U.S. — is overwhelmingly offered from a male perspective to an audience that is assumed to be male. Many men cannot see this because they are themselves men and their perspective is being accommodated.

    But I am increasingly tired of this. If you think I’ve been outspoken about this, brace yourselves, because there’s gonna be a lot more of it. I’m that fucking exhausted by it.

  • JoshDM

    I made the mistake of watching a trailer for Human Centipede. Yet another thing I’ve seen on the Internet that I cannot, despite my most sincere wishes and prayers, un-see.

    If you have the stomach to watch it again, check out the photo on the nightstand in the bedroom when the girl is hiding from the doctor. Even she does a slight double-take.

  • Susan

    If you think I’ve been outspoken about this, brace yourselves, because there’s gonna be a lot more of it. I’m that fucking exhausted by it.

    Thank you! If I can’t get movies that aren’t ruined by tired tropes, at least I can find cogent commentary on them.

    In related news, do you take donations?

  • CB

    If you have the stomach to watch it again, check out the photo on the nightstand in the bedroom when the girl is hiding from the doctor. Even she does a slight double-take.

    I might give it a look (that part is before the really wacked stuff), but if it’s goatse man I’m going to be very upset with you.

  • JoshDM

    In related news, do you take donations?

    She did at one point IIRC, with the option to be able to request for a specified movie to be reviewed.

    Still haven’t seen that Kentucky Fried Movie review.

  • Mathias

    You’re my fave critic MaryAnn but i strongly disagree with you on this one.

    I thought it was a daring, original, perverse, twisted, psychological and pyschosexual treat for those of us who are tired of Platinum Dunes “horror” films.

    For me, it’s the 2nd best film of the year behing HTTYD.

  • Mathias

    *behind.

    Dam it, leanr to spel moron!

  • Newbia

    I haven’t seen the movie but I did read the full synopsis at the moviespoiler.com. One of your problems with the movie is that one of the roles could only be a female. You complain that it is not a “gender-blind part”. Why should it be? Women can have babies. That’s a biological fact. Is it wrong to have a woman acting like a female member of the species? You complain that her motives are “gendered”, but why shouldn’t they be? Although I can tell from your review that the movie didn’t do this well, in a good movie with the same plot it would be quite interesting to see how a female scientist’s gender influences her motives. If Elsa acted exactly like male scientists in other movies, that would be boring.

  • Boingo

    Semi-spoiler clown horn: beep beep

    The deep “PP (Psycho-physiological[made up word])”
    question I had to ask myself: “How many beers would
    it take for me to be passionately attracted to a chicken-legged woman? Note: I have spent the night(under the influence) with pigeon-toed women who weren’t as attractive,so that presented an uncomfortable question.

  • Lisa

    you a dude? none!lol

    The point she is making is that the role had to be played by a woman so that she could be ***** and then ***********. The story is not from a female perspective, it’s just a narrative point. She has to be female so this can happen.

  • ALec

    I am a little surprised by this review.

    Quite commonly, Mary and another reviewer I like, MovieBob from the Escapist, agree on geek fair.

    This time they are poles apart…

    I wonder what MAJ would make of his points on it.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/escape-to-the-movies/1762-Splice

  • alec

    er, *fare*

  • MaryAnn

    You complain that her motives are “gendered”, but why shouldn’t they be?

    Because it’s yet another example of how maleness is considered “neutral” — male characters frequently do not behave in specifically gendered ways — and that women are only considered necessary to a story when their biological functions are required to tell the story.

    I wonder what MAJ would make of his points on it.

    I disagree with almost everything he says. (*Splice* is certainly not “this year’s *District 9.*”)

  • MaryAnn

    In related news, do you take donations?

    I used to, as JoshDM noted, but it’s not really a viable way to run a Web site. However, if you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket and really want to make a donation, you can PayPal me at thechick@flickfilosopher.com

    Still haven’t seen that Kentucky Fried Movie review.

    It’s coming soon, JoshDM: I promise.

  • LaSargenta

    …And I want to see a review of Revengers Tragedy. I’m pretty sure it’s available for her to watch. Might even be rattling around her desk. ;-)

  • FrustratedMovieGoer

    As I watched this movie, I became bored with the usual fare of scientists become victims to the monster they created-type fare. However, I soon noticed that this movie maybe, just maybe, might turn regular fare on its head by making the “monster” the victom and the “victims” the monsters. That is, until the 3rd act.

    Others, including you, MaryAnn, have seen this 3rd act as an attack on the natural inclinations and victimization of women. I saw this entire movie in a different light – notablly a stereotypical attack on manhood. Note the animalistic nature of Brody’s character (i.e. it must be killed, I want sex because we haven’t had it in so long, etc.). Please! And later, the male-female blobs from the begining of the movie tear themselves apart when one of them changes sex. Not to mention, the freakish twists in the movie which I won’t mention (both of them).

    In all, the tone of the movie was quite clear. Women are motherly creatures full of compassion, although sometimes confused into shocking behavior. This shocking behavior can be excused, of course, by having mothers who did not behave as mothers. Men, on the otherhand, are over-sexed, over-controlling, over-agressive, animals who cannot control their own actions. The final insult to the male species occurred near the end with a horrific act against women that only occured after a fundamental change in the creature.

    I left the theater angry. More angry than I have ever been at a piece of fiction. And it was most certainly not because of a piece of film which objectified women as only capable of motherly feelings. Instead, I was outraged at the simplisitc portrayl of men as animals only capable of two things: sex and violence.

    Disgusting.

  • Boingo

    Spoiler alert-Honk

    Yeah, FrustratedMovieGoer, I see how you felt. I thought
    it was oversimplistic-men bad and horny; women good
    and nurturing.Both scientists did flip flop- I give
    them that.

    During the exhibition-2 male creatures in a confined space
    become violent? Hey, they had the option to discuss
    sports.The only difference is that I didn’t leave the movie feeling
    angry, more so disappointed. The plot was filled with
    lulls in which the rewards and surprises from Dren
    were lacking.I felt if Dren was so intelligent with
    scrabble pieces, her communication could have been
    a thousand times more articulated with the help of the
    these 2 geniuses.

    I was waiting for Brody’s nose to sprout a spike.

  • MaryAnn

    Women are motherly creatures full of compassion, although sometimes confused into shocking behavior. This shocking behavior can be excused, of course, by having mothers who did not behave as mothers. Men, on the otherhand, are over-sexed, over-controlling, over-agressive, animals who cannot control their own actions.

    I can’t disagree that the film does position its male character as you say, but I don’t think the film portrays Polley’s character as “motherly” or “full of compassion.” She’s more like a mommy-dearest than anything else: to me it says that unless a woman is a mother, “inescapable” mothering urges will express themselves in other, twisted ways. That is, women who aren’t mothers are destined to be weirdoes.

  • Lady Tenar

    I left the theater angry. More angry than I have ever been at a piece of fiction. And it was most certainly not because of a piece of film which objectified women as only capable of motherly feelings. Instead, I was outraged at the simplisitc portrayl of men as animals only capable of two things: sex and violence.

    You know something can be offensive to both men and women at the same time. In fact that’s usually how it works, in my view. Think about all those sitcoms that portray men as sex-driven, sports-obsessed, insenstive morons. Everybody always talks about how anti-male they are and they are. But I think they’re also anti-female. When I was a kid watching them I’d think “Why is she such a needy idiot settling for this douchebag and waiting around for him to change into a man that can make her happy? I don’t ever want to settle for a clod like this!” It’s a very stereotyped view of men and women. Men may be stupid neanderthals but we women just love them so much anyway because we just can’t help ourselves because we have no standards or self-esteem and, hey, we need someone to nag all the time, as long as he buys us jewlry on Valentine’s Day! Ick.

    So why does this movie need to be offensive to men only? When you say that the message is “Women are motherly creatures full of compassion, although sometimes confused into shocking behavior”, don’t you find something problematic about that?

    Frankly, you shouldn’t be surprised to find these gender stereotypes of men and women in the same movie. The way the stereotypes have always worked is that men are all about action and sex and conquering, and women are all about love and compassion and have to “soften” the men to make sure they don’t rape and kill too many people. But they’re essentially powerless. Men are victimizers and women are victims. These assumptions go hand in hand and they are unfair to everyone. So if you object to the portrayal of men as innately predatory–and you should–then you should also object to the portrayal of women as innately compassionate but also powerless.

    You can’t empower one gender at the expense of another. That’s not how it works. So, generally, if a movie is offensive to one gender, it’s offensive to the other one too.

  • Ehren

    Jeez, Here we go… I LOVED the film…

    The film shocked me (which is NOT easy…) and, it left me disturbed… It ran me therough the ringer emotionally. I cannot stop thinking about it…

    It’s thought-provoking and frightening… and, again, I LOVED it…

    Does a film HAVE to be “feminist??” EVERYONE in the film is “flawed.” NO ONE comes out smelling like a rose…

    Whatever… It was a one-of-a-kind film experience for me… I can’t remember the last time I was so caught of guard… I thoughroly enjoyed “Splice.”
    You may not like thsi film if you’re

  • Ehren

    “I was outraged at the simplisitc portrayl of men as animals only capable of two things: sex and violence.”

    I’m sorry… Did you watch the same film I did? Brody’s character was a fully-realized, complex, realistically-flawed person… with MANY emotions…

    who was thrust into an incredible situation… and, once lines of morality were CROSSED, he slipped OVER the line completely… Once they’d broken the taboo of meddling into God’s place, it was easy (and believable) that he’d break that OTHER taboo… (Dren IS attractive and, face it… MOST men WOULD f*** her. I would and, I certainly don’t consider myself “bad.”)

    BOTH Scientists were basically “good” people who got in way over their heads and unleashed something they were NOT equipped to deal with…

    The film is like a Greek tragedy in some ways… and, I really believe that some of you weren’t mature enough to handle it… or lack imagination… Surely some of you are unable to enjoy this film due to your OWN emotional baggage.

  • Boingo

    “Dren IS attractive and, face it… MOST men WOULD f*** her. I would and, I certainly don’t consider myself “bad.”

    At least you’re honest about it. For me, I imagine
    waking up and seeing those chicken legs not covered
    by the blanket would take some getting used to.
    I’d tactfully make her wear MC Hammer Genie Pants
    in public.

  • Brian

    I’ve gotta find a catchier handle or something . . . I keep seeing other folks posting as “Brian” (How dare someone else have my very common first name?!) and saying stuff that I would probably never say.

    Sorry, that’s all; I haven’t seen this movie, so I don’t have anything to say about it.

  • matthew

    Just wanted to stop by and say I loved this review. As a male who likes smart horror sci-fi movies that don’t denigrate women (isn’t that a niche genre?) I was disappointed by the way Splice devolved into a typical, punish the woman slasher film.

    This is the best review of the film I’ve come across. Excellent work.

  • MaryAnn

    Does a film HAVE to be “feminist??” EVERYONE in the film is “flawed.” NO ONE comes out smelling like a rose…

    Feminism isn’t about portraying women as perfect. Yes, the characters in the film are flawed, and that’s fine. That’s not a problem. What opens the film to a feminist critique is that the writers and the filmmakers chose to tell a very specific story about a woman who is punished in a very specific way for her transgressions. This story did not HAVE to have that aspect. Or, the story could have been about the fact that, indeed, the world does sometimes treat women unfairly because of their gender. But it doesn’t do that either.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you ask, “Does a film have to be feminist?” Are you suggesting that it’s okay for films to be misogynist, and if they are, we shouldn’t complain about that?

  • FrustratedMovieGoer

    “I’m sorry… Did you watch the same film I did? Brody’s character was a fully-realized, complex, realistically-flawed person… with MANY emotions…”

    Brody’s character acted at one point similar to Woody Allen several years ago – an act which many find repugnant.

    When I despair at the viewpoint of males expressed by this film, I am not necessary pointing to the films primary charcters played by Brody and Polley – but to the creatures they create. I do not wish to present spoilers, but focusing on the creatures and how they interact with each other, the environment, etc. is radically different when compared both before and after their transformations.

    I will agree that Polley’s character was not whole viewed as motherly. More like “I love you now, but when I feel threatened by you, I will hate you and hurt you.” To another poster’s point, this portaryl is denigrating to women. I would be (and am) offended that a woman is portrayed as a loving being until threatened and then she turns vindictive and evil against one who she considers her daughter.

    So…I recognize my error and amend. This film was insulting to BOTH men and women. Ironically, later that night I saw Nightmare on Elm Street. The primary protaganist was female, with a mix of male and female characters. They were protrayed in a slasher horror movie, notorious for gender-biased portrayls, better than in Splice.

    Enough now…time to eat.

  • Accounting Ninja

    **This comment contains serious spoilers. Read at your own risk**

    **I’m serious! :D**

    “Dren IS attractive and, face it… MOST men WOULD f*** her. I would and, I certainly don’t consider myself “bad.”

    Okay, this line creeped me out. Let us remember that the “man” we are talking about is basically Dren’s foster father. So if a man adopts a particularly comely girl, he can’t be blamed for “fucking” her? Ew ew ew.

    I’ve read all the spoilers for this movie, and it enrages me. It’s that old “Poison Ivy” incest angle I’m so tired of seeing: sexxay girl child seduces hapless father, then mother hates her. Yeah, THAT’S great for all the sexual abuse victims out there. “Remember, girls, if your (step/adopted)father is abusing you, NEVER tell your mother, because she will hate you forever and only be jealous, and also he can’t HELP it because you are so pretty.”

    The gender angle is infuriating. The portrayal of men IS bad. Basically, Walking Penises who will pretty much bone anything, regardless, and then KILL other males in their primitive fury. The way they treat women is worse, though, for two reasons. One, when Father basically takes advantage of Daughter (she can’t be held responsible, considering what she is), instead of protecting her Daughter, Mother lashes out at her. This perpetuates the age-old stereotype that all women just see each other as competition for precious male attention, even mothers and daughters, and they will go at each other’s throats at the first opportunity. And two: Mother’s Ultimate Punishment, which she just ACCEPTS (because she DESERVED IT, see), is the icing on the shit cake. She doesn’t even consider terminating.

    Now, if that which happened to Mother had happened to Father, THAT would have been interesting. Revenge against its abuse, perhaps? How different it would have been if post-twist Dren had delivered that punishment on her molester?

    Oh, but then we would have had to show FatherxDren for what it really was, icky abuse, rather than Super Sexxay Time.

    Like what FunWithHeadlines said, it would have been interesting to show the “monster” as victim. I think she was, even though the movie did not.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    “Dren IS attractive and, face it… MOST men WOULD f*** her. I would and, I certainly don’t consider myself “bad.”

    We’re talking about a female creature that looks at most twelve years old according to the images of her that appear on the posters MaryAnn has shown on this site.

    I could understand being attracted to a twelve-year-old girl if I was still twelve-year-old but now that I’m older…hell no!

    Plus my niece is just a few years away from that age. Please excuse me if I choose not to find a woman close to my niece’s age desirable. I suppose I’m just funny that way.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    It’s coming soon, JoshDM: I promise.

    Speaking of mommy issues, MaryAnn, what did you think of The Brood?

  • Deuce

    I got done watching Splice last night.

    A couple of things, first, I saw it with my girlfriend, and one of the things she found herself repeating was “Men will screw anything”. That made me feel a little guilty.

    When I got home, I started looking through the reviews, and found this movie had incensed the feminist community. (I also learned what a “trigger” is.) I think I understand why a little better now after sifting through the comments on this review.

    Just as a little thought exercise, I’d like to know how well this movie would have gone over if Brody’s character had been played by a woman as well. Would this be an improvement?

    Also, it just occurred to me, how has the conversation proceeded this far with no reference to the scene where Brody’s character is chided by his brother for not seizing control of the situation, allowing himself to be led by his female counterpart? That scene alone, I imagine, sums up the whole feminist argument: Men see other men allowing a woman any sort of lead will accuse him of weakness, and by proxy, accuse her of failures in judgement not because of a specific character flaw, but because she is a woman. Accordingly, women must be kept under thumb for the good of society.

  • madavis4

    Thank you for writing this.

    As soon as Dren changed I leaned over to my husband and said “if this ends how I think it is gonna end I am gonna be pissed.”

    And it sure did.

    I really don’t even understand the comments complaining that the movie isn’t “about” feminism and so feminist analysis isn’t applicable. The tools of feminist criticism exist in order to help us read texts. It is like you are saying that a movie has to be “about” post-structuralism in order to be deconstructed.

    Also, how long is it gonna take these people to understand that feminist analysis is about GENDER not just about WOMEN. So if you think that the men in the movie are being shown in a sexist way (which I would agree with) then you are making a feminist move.

    This movie is also pretty heterosexist if you ask me. In all instances, penis + vagina = sex. Penis + penis or vagina + vagina = competition. You don’t even need any kind of love or emotional connection! You just need parts that fit together and you will fuck. If you don’t have those parts, you have to fight.

  • MBI

    minor spoilers

    “She’s more like a mommy-dearest than anything else: to me it says that unless a woman is a mother, “inescapable” mothering urges will express themselves in other, twisted ways. ”

    I agree, but I don’t see why this is a problem. This is a horror movie; it’s supposed to have a dim view of humanity as a whole, women included. I also don’t understand the complaint about the film seeing the female character as a mother first; it’s a film ABOUT parenthood, explicitly. That’s like complaining that Meryl Streep’s character in “Kramer vs. Kramer” is only seen in terms of her function as a parent.

    I don’t know, I find myself compelled to defend this film even though in a lot of ways it’s kind of awful, in most of the ways described in the review. I’m not so much bothered by the fact that Elsa is punished for her transgressions as much as the fact that the reasons she committed them in the first place are either ridiculous or non-existent. So in that case, I guess I see where MaryAnn is coming from after all. And even that was more justification than why Adrien Brody wound up molesting his specimen — a serious WTF moment that took me right out of the movie and which I don’t think I ever recovered from.

    Still, this is a film swimming in deep psychological waters here. I’m conflicted. I think it needs longer and further analysis, even if it ends up not changing my opinion much.

    “Natali wants the, er, male members of his audience to want to fuck Dren.”

    If that’s what he wanted then he really, really failed.

  • MaryAnn

    If that’s what he wanted then he really, really failed.

    Maybe with you — and I’m glad to hear it — but take a look around at some other sites, and you’ll see that with many male members of the audience, he did not fail.

    We’re talking about a female creature that looks at most twelve years old according to the images of her that appear on the posters MaryAnn has shown on this site.

    Dren grows up a lot more. Physically, anyway — mentally, she is of course always an infant.

    Speaking of mommy issues, MaryAnn, what did you think of The Brood?

    Don’t know it.

    “Men will screw anything”. That made me feel a little guilty.

    Unless you’ll screw anything, Deuce, you shouldn’t feel guilty. But you might want to feel angry that a movie depicts men in this way.

    Just as a little thought exercise, I’d like to know how well this movie would have gone over if Brody’s character had been played by a woman as well. Would this be an improvement?

    Hard to say. The problem isn’t the casting per se: it’s the whole package. Merely changing a gender here or there wouldn’t necessarily fix any of the problems. Everything else being the same, it’s *possible* that with another, different depiction of a woman, this *might* have served as a sort of balance. But of course the genders could stay exactly as they are, and better, more nuanced screenwriting could have fixed the problems.

    ***SPOILERS BELOW***

    I also don’t understand the complaint about the film seeing the female character as a mother first; it’s a film ABOUT parenthood, explicitly.

    Okay, but every mad-scientist-makes-a-monster movie is about parenthood. To a one (unless there’s a movie I’m not remembering or not aware of), these mad scientists are always male. Yet *Frankenstein* (for instance) is not about a man who creates a male monster that randomly morphs into a female, comes to him in his bed and succubuses the lifeforce out of him via his semen (for just one sorta comparable way such a movie could end). These movies are not ABOUT positing that these men are thwarted in their attempts to go about procreating in the usual way, or men who avoid procreating in the usual way because they imagine they’ll be bad fathers… a fear that is immediately proven to be true when they “father” their monsters.

    In many, perhaps all of these other movies, you could recast the mad scientist as female and not change a single other thing about the story, and the story would still work. That is NOT true of *Splice.*

    That’s like complaining that Meryl Streep’s character in “Kramer vs. Kramer” is only seen in terms of her function as a parent.

    Indeed, that IS a problem with *Kramer vs. Kramer*: Streep’s character is seen ONLY as a mother, with whatever needs and desires she has as a person completely ignored, except to suggest that a woman who wants to be more than a mother is a bad person.

    This movie is also pretty heterosexist if you ask me. In all instances, penis + vagina = sex. Penis + penis or vagina + vagina = competition.

    I fear that that is even more deeply ingrained in our culture than patriarchy is. Although maybe that will change if we evil revolutionary feminists have our way and our culture ends up seeing people as *people* first, and their gender/orientation second. Hell, maybe we’ll even stop worrying about orientation at all!

  • Ide Cyan

    The Brood is a David Cronenberg film from 1979. It’s very parenthood-as-horror, but not in the same way as Splice, though it’s not really Cronenberg’s most positive depiction of women, either.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078908/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Brood (summary contains spoilers)