Splice exposes contemporary humanity’s deep-seated fears about the prospects of genetic engineering and ultimately attempts to ridicule them. It’s an exercise in campy horror in one sense, containing scene after scene of silly characters doing impossible (for now?) things resulting in overblown consequences with those characters reacting to events in some of the dumbest ways imaginable. While all of this could be interpreted in a variety of ways, foremost among them a simple excuse to make a bloody creature movie, it rather coherently ends up mocking its own premise and any who would begin to believe it possible.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Splice is as valid an artifact of the monstrous feminine, the O/other, the uncanny, the liminal, and the abject as probably anything David Cronenberg or even David Lynch has directed. This is like Cronenberg’s The Brood meets Lynch’s Eraserhead meets (some other guy’s film) Species. Regardless of the level of cinematic competence of the crew behind the camera, the film’s content speaks enough for itself to earn a position among films like those. If Cronenberg’s characters are often not to be taken seriously, why would anyone think that Adrien Brody and company in this film should be? Plus, Splice has Guillermo del Toro in the credits as executive producer. By this point, we all know how much del Toro both has a sense a humor and enjoys poking at flesh wounds.
The husband-and-wife scientist team who splice DNA from various animal breeds with one another, creating freakish (and hilariously phallus-shaped) freaks, pretty quickly start displaying serious problems of their own. The fact that their names are “Clive” and “Elsa” (actor names from the original Frankenstein film) attests to their morally dubious nature. Clive starts displaying pretty classic signs of male impotence not far into the film. This is impotence not of a sexual nature but a social one. He caves to Elsa’s every demand and nags her like the stereotypical wife. Elsa is also a living stereotype, but of a maternal sort. She turns down Clive’s initial suggestion that they have a child together. (They have an interesting exchange at this point. Elsa harasses him, “Why don’t you have a baby?” “What,” he says playfully,” and ruin this perfect figure?” Already at this early point Clive shows a strongly feminine side.)
Despite her objections to having a child, Elsa ends up using her own DNA to create a hybrid animal-human embryo. No sooner does the creature emerge from its post-delivery womb-sack when Elsa begins treating it/her like a human baby. At this point, the creation looks almost nothing like a human, but Elsa swaddles it. Since the creature ages very quickly (conveniently for cinematic purposes) we see Elsa only a few cuts later dressing the creature up in a stereotypical dress. It’s light blue in color and somewhat reminiscent of Dorothy’s dress in The Wizard of Oz. While this could be ultra-analyzed, it seems centrally indicative of Elsa’s desire to raise this offspring in a relatively traditional environment that submits to gender norms. Later in the film, Elsa shows “Dren” how to apply makeup: mascara, blush, and lipstick. Dren’s freakish appearance, barely shrouded behind a dress or makeup, only serves to render her more alien and bizarre.
Dren’s status as neither human nor animal, but both, may have more to do with hybridity than liminality. She is not so much excluded from both species as she is a combination of each. This places her in a socially liminal space, however, excluded from the animal and from the human. The film only begins to explore these ramifications, however, preferring to illustrate the uneasy territory of the initial idea of inter-species genetic modification. Further still, Splice hopes to reveal the irrational fears behind genetic hysteria and paranoia. By couching something so real-world in the context of a creature horror film, the narrative reveals how absurd is the notion that something so bad could actually occur. Such fears are identified with the equally absurd characters Elsa and Clive within the film. Though it isn’t explored, it’s acknowledged that Elsa had a very strange and unhealthy childhood. How fitting, then, that she insists on bringing Dren to the dilapidated, vacant home out in the woods where she grew up. Clive’s issues have been mentioned, but it’s also worth pointing out how unscientific he is, for being a supposed scientist. He carries himself more like a college student in an alt-rock band, wearing trendy t-shirts under his lab coat and listening to hard rock music.
All of this combined seems to be Splice‘s way of saying, “Quit worrying about genetics. It’s not like there are incompetent imbeciles in the laboratories creating monsters.” Such a dismissively didactic approach to a major contemporary issue is disturbing. Film’s confronting the potential dangers of, for example, technology have generally taken the subject seriously (as least the good ones), and very often their worries were retrospectively validated. (Consider films like Modern Times, Alphaville, Blade Runner, Minority Report, and Children of Men.) Splice takes genetics as seriously as Dr. Strangelove took the bomb. The two films differ in an important way, however. Whereas the bomb, i.e. the threat of nuclear annihilation, existed outside any remote realm of individual control, genetics has been brought to the level of the voter. Dr. Strangelove was not intended as, and could not have functioned as, a propaganda piece. Splice is something closer to that, taking an issue with enormous ramifications and potential repercussions to human beings on both side of an increasingly blurry fence, and turning it into a joke. In so doing, it argues that those on one side of the fence can’t be taken very seriously.