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Dissecting the many metaphors of “Splice.”

Dissecting the many metaphors of “Splice.” (photo)

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NOTE: This piece contains SPOILERS.

The trailers sold “Splice” as a science-gone-wrong monster movie. The June 4th opening suggested dumb summer horror. But director Vincenzo Natali’s film is a lot smarter than its marketing or release date suggest.

Maybe too smart for its own good — it received a grade of D from audiences in Cinemascore’s exit polls, according to this week’s box office report from Entertainment Weekly. Though the film does deliver some solid scares, impressive creature effects and its fair share of gore, “Splice” is more than a simple genre retread. Natali and co-writers Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor layered their screenplay with all sorts of clever metaphors. Here’s three I caught; I’ll look to you, commenters, to tell us which others I missed:

06072010_splice2.jpgMad Science as Parenting: “Splice”‘s plot involves a pair of married scientists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), on the cusp of a major breakthrough in the field of gene splicing. As the film begins, they’re reveling in the successful creation of Fred and Ginger, two sacks of fidgety flesh filled with valuable proteins ready for harvest. Though Fred’s easily one of the most repulsive looking creatures you’ll see in a movie theater this year, Elsa can’t help but dote on him. “He’s so cute!” she brags. And why shouldn’t she? Fred’s her baby, and parents always think their ugly babies are adorable.

Clive and Elsa don’t have any kids; the creepy crawlies “born” in their laboratory are their offspring, and “Splice”‘s parenting metaphors get even more pronounced with the arrival of their latest bundle of joy (and occasional terror), Dren. She’s the result of the scientists’ addition of human DNA to Fred and Ginger’s genetic stew. Since Clive and Elsa’s bosses haven’t approved the morally and economically questionable experiment that creates Dren, the pair have to take care of her themselves in secret. And while Dren, with her alien, hairless head, stubby raptor arms, and triple-jointed chicken legs, is a pretty unique looking baby, the problems Clive and Elsa face raising her are, for the most part, pretty typical: difficulty feeding a finicky eater, comforting it when it’s scared, dealing with its tantrums, and reinforcing its boundaries.

And the allegory doesn’t stop with the way Clive and Elsa deal with Dren; it also applies to how they deal with each other. Like most parents, Clive and Elsa’s relationship is changed by the addition of their little “miracle.” Again, the issues are familiar: They stop having sex and sleeping. They argue more. They disagree over the best ways to teach and discipline. They worry they’re screwing everything up and ruining their child’s life. In this context, you could read the film’s ending in a couple different ways: maybe they do mess up Dren, and suffer the consequences for it. Or maybe children are just inherently little monsters who ruin their parents’ lives. Either way, married couples considering babies of their own should keep their distance from this movie on date night. It’s like “What To Expect When You’re Expecting (The Worst).”

06022010_splice3.jpgMonster Killing as Abortion: If the whole film is a thinly veiled metaphor for parenting, it makes sense that these parents might, in a moment of panic, consider terminating their scientifically engineered pregnancy. Which is exactly what happens after Clive begins to regret letting Elsa fertilize an egg with their splice-y DNA.

Natali, Bryant, and Taylor’s choice of dialogue is deliberate and unmistakable. When they first fix their eyes on Dren, Elsa asks, “What is it?” Clive responds, “A mistake.” Putting his foot down after a series of acquiescences to Elsa, he announces that his intent to kill their creation. “Do you have to do this?” pleads Elsa. “You don’t have to,” Clive replies. “I’ll take care of this.” The gender reversal going on in that moment mirrors the increasingly ambiguous gender roles of certain characters later in the film.

Mad Science as Filmmaking: “Splice”‘s title refers to Clive and Elsa’s genetic experimentation, of course, but the word “splice” also refers to the act of film editing. With that in mind — and considering the fact that the film’s credit sequence ends with the words “Splice, By Vincenzo Natali” followed immediately by a birth sequence from the point of view of a newborn — we can look at the entire film as an allegory for the act of filmmaking. For a director, a film is their baby. They create it, develop it, watch it grow, and then send it off into the world. Whatever it does, it still has their name attached to it and it’s still their responsibility.

It’s also possible to read the film as a metaphor for indie filmmakers struggling against the constraints of a system that values commerce over art. Like a lot of independents, Clive and Elsa have their dreams and ambitions — in their case, creating a human/animal hybrid — but are forced to put them on the back burner out of financial concerns. The corporation that own the patents on their work could represent Hollywood studio execs. The push and pull between the scientists and their financiers, who admire their ideas but care more about delivering results to their stockholders, is like the dance between any director and the folks holding his or her purse strings. The scene where Clive and Elsa introduce Fred and Ginger to their company’s stockholders represents a disastrous test screening. Like the Michael Ciminos of the world, Clive and Elsa let their ambition get the best of them, and they begin to lose control of the creation, and their minds.

06072010_splice3.jpgMonster movies like “Splice” are traditionally cautionary tales about the perils of science run amok. Applied to the idea that Clive and Elsa are artistically adventurous filmmakers, that implies a belief that too much experimentation in a movie can be dangerous. That seems like a strange point for a filmmaker to make, and yet the end of “Splice,” in which Dren goes on a rather clichéd kill-spree in a foggy forest, essentially reinforces it. Though much of the movie boldly creates a creature that an audience can sympathize with and even, at times, root for against her human “parents,” the film’s decidedly formulaic ending reverts to a simpler, more mainstream style of filmmaking.

“Splice”‘s most frequently repeatedly line is “What’s the worst that could happen?” In this case, it might be other studios getting scared away from making horror films as creative as “Splice” by that D from Cinemascore. I’d hate to imagine future horror movies, spliced together from the worst and most obvious bits from existing material, appealing only to our basest needs and containing none of this film’s intelligence. Maybe genetic engineers shouldn’t take so many risks. But filmmakers definitely should.

[Photos: “Splice,” Warner Brothers, 2010]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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