Normally, movies low-rated by critics get higher ratings from the general public, but Splice went the opposite route. Critics rated it highly while the public stayed away in droves and are now giving it predominantly negative reviews on Amazon.
It's easy to see why. This movie isn't "disturbing" so much as "deeply fucking nightmare inducing." It's got rape and child abuse and mutilation and daddy-daughter miscegenation and gender-bending scientific experiments on live creatures that scream in pain all the way. It will probably give you nightmares, and I cannot blame a single person who walked out of the theater cursing the director, the writers, and everyone who green-lit the movie.
However, I found Splice to be brilliant, one of few movies that really digs into the darkest, most taboo place that humanity continues to make fairy tales about: creation.
Fairy tale one: "Mothers giving birth! It's unconditional love! How beautiful!" But of course, such idealization ignores how ugly mothers can be to their children, and the selfish reasons people often have for creating life. Fairy tale two: "Scientists working to save lives! How noble!" And yet, a scientist with great intentions watched with horror as an invention he helped perfect, that allowed humanity to split the atom, became a bomb. Descriptions of how he walked through Hiroshima and tried to pick people up, only to pull the skin right off them after what the bomb he had invented had done to them, are truly horrific.
And so are Splice's main characters. Clive and Elsa are two scientists in love, doing the noble work of synthesizing proteins to aid human health. As they work, they create a creature, sentient and intelligent, that they call Dren.
But Clive, seeing how Elsa treats Dren like her own child, quickly realizes Elsa made Dren from her own DNA; Dren is the perfect child that she can control in the name of science. Looking into her past, Clive discovers a history of abuse that has made Elsa both desperate for a child, and yet afraid to lose control in a way she'd have to should she give birth to a "real" child. With Dren, Elsa has an excuse to lock the girl up, mutilate her, use her, deprive her of anything, because after all, she's just an experiment...but then Elsa can go back and be kind and loving, because it's her daughter.
And then, of course, there's Clive's own developing feelings for Dren, feelings both paternal and sexual, a confusing mix not helped by Dren's own rapid sexual awakening and Elsa's growing insanity that leaves him feeling alone and threatened. To say nothing of Dren herself, growing stronger every day--stronger and angrier on a steady diet of Elsa's abuse and Clive's denial.
Some people, watching this movie, assumed it was about the dangers of science and what happens when we push the limits too far, and I think that's part of what Splice was about. But I think it was also about the dangers of creation in general, and how when you put something out in the world, and do it selfishly, and with cruelty, there are consequences. There's a very important and telling scene in the movie near the end where Clive and Elsa are forced to face up to what they've done to Dren, and they, like all abusive parents before them, are forced to choose: will they try and change themselves, for the good of their child? Or will they turn away from their child, for their selfish needs and because they can't face up to what they've done? Their language in this scene is deliberately ambiguous, but it's ominous as well, as Clive tells Elsa, "It's our responsibility to end it."
But of course, he's wrong. When you create, neglect, and have sex with your own child, it's not you who gets to "end it." Clive, who can't face that reality, seals his fate with his cowardice. And though Elsa lives to the movie's end, she faces Dren's wrath in her own way, as she inevitably must.
Splice is an impressive piece of work that sets about shattering deeply held human taboos. It's definitely not for everyone, as there's no happy endings or a single person who learns their lesson at the end. It's about people who create for all the wrong reasons--Elsa, as a mother; Clive, as a scientist; and, at the end of the story, a corporation for money though they know the horrible things that happened--and the consequences of giving birth without conscience or responsibility.