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“Splice” and “Double Take”: A contemporary Frankenstein and an editorial one

“Splice” and “Double Take”: A contemporary Frankenstein and an editorial one (photo)

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You can tell right off the bat that “Splice”‘s genetic engineer couple Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are a poor fit for button-down corporate science, Canadian horror movie style. No cool Cronenbergian remove for these two! They live together in a warehouse loft, drive a vintage Gremlin, wear t-shirts with iconoclastic slogans printed on them, and urge each other on to greatness with reminders like “Wired doesn’t interview losers.”

After their ongoing experiments to create new hybrid animal life (the first of which appears to be the successful union of a guinea pig and a gigantic human penis) reach fruition, Elsa and Clive (surely named after Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive, the actors who played the 1935 “Bride of Frankenstein” and the doctor in the original 1931 film) prepare to do some DNA knitting further up the food chain.

Their corporate sponsors, however, are having none of it. The research and development stage of their work is on pause, the pair are informed, until the company makes back some of what they’ve spent at the product stage. Making the most of an opportunity to stick it to the Man and to the Man Upstairs, the two scientists splice human DNA to a cocktail of different animals’ DNA on the sly, impregnate a human egg with the result and wait to see what happens. They don’t wait long.

06022010_splice5.jpgAfter a bloody and very messy birth, Elsa and Clive find themselves the incredulous de facto parents of a two-legged, mostly digital creature that in infancy bears more than a passing resemblance to the cartoon drawing of Foot Foot from the cover of the Shaggs’ “Philosophy of the World.” Before long, the creature gains the name Dren, along with arms, fingers and a lithe body and birdlike face primarily contributed by actress Delphine Chanéac.

While nobody can quite figure out what Dren is, exactly, it turns out that Elsa, Clive and their romantic and professional partnership aren’t what they initially seemed, either. Both use Dren’s cloistered early development in and around Elsa’s derelict childhood home as a run-through for the more traditional parenthood we’re told Clive wants and Elsa fears. But the lost sleep, inattention to their jobs and absence of intimacy between the two that most new parents endure soon pale in comparison to the trials, temptations and confessions they face as Dren begins to spread her wings literally and metaphorically.

Director Vincenzo Natali (best know for 1997’s cult favorite “Cube”) and his co-writers struggle to keep to the storytelling high road as much as latter day horror conventions permit by doling out what feels like two movies’ worth of backstory whys and wherefores driving the couple to the egregious lapses in scientific ethics, marital trust and common sense that trip up their discovery and relationship.

06022010_splice4.jpgPortraying the member of the couple with the extra helping of issues, Sarah Polley struggles mightily to keep a realistic foothold on her character even while interpreting “Grey’s Anatomy”-grade dialogue like “I don’t even know who you are anymore!”, “Was this ever even about science?” and “I just wish things could go back the way they were.”

But the mish-mash of reasons and conflicts that drive Doctor Mom, Doctor Dad and baby Dren to a particularly gruesome sequence of late inning story events involving bondage, surgical maiming, semi-incest, rape and worse seem like mis-matched layers of complications peeled from different narrative onions.

While Dren’s CGI augmented manifestations are sometimes impressive to watch — particularly in a bizarre dance sequence the creature shares with Clive — and Chanéac attacks her on-set responsibility for creating artificial life with personality and energy to spare, Dren’s high cheek bones, big-eyed gaze, and smiling rictus evoke a kind of anti-Amelie more than something wholly original or entirely fascinating.

06022010_splice7.jpgThe only passport that would guarantee an audience safe passage through the film’s brightly lit and maddeningly talky middle third would be for us on our side of the screen to have the same fascination with Dren that her onscreen parents do, and yet that allure, repulsive or otherwise, just isn’t there.

Ultimately, what sinks “Splice” is a complete absence of the playfully mordant myth-making that distinguishes executive producer Guillermo del Toro’s own films. Yes the idea of both scientific advancement and couplehood falling prey to the same human foibles is an interesting one. But does it have to be so single-mindedly joyless ?

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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