“I hope they are deeply disturbed, in the best possible way.”
That’s what writer-director Vincenzo Natali wants the audience to get out of his latest film Splice — a sci-fi thriller about a pair of geneticists who make the perilous decision to mix human DNA with animal DNA.
The idea for the movie came to Natali after he saw a photograph of a mouse that had a human ear growing out of its back. “It was so shocking I immediately thought there was a movie in this mouse,” Natali says of the odd M.I.T. experiment known as the “Vacanti mouse.”
That was 15 years ago, before Natali made the indie sci-fi hit Cube and went from being a storyboard artist on features like Johnny Mnemonic and Blood & Donuts to being a touted filmmaker in his own right. Even after the success of Cube though it was difficult to sell the idea of Splice to a studio.
“While the film has its roots in Frankenstein it diverges from that paradigm and it goes to some fairly transgressive, weird places. I think it’s a very accessible and very commercial film but there really isn’t a precedent for it,” he explains. “The amazing thing about the development of the film is how the real world science evolved in parallel to the point that when we began shooting they had legalized the creation of animal-human hybrids [in the UK]. There was a moment that I was afraid fact would catch up and possibly eclipse my fiction.”
Starring as Clive and Elsa, the couple behind the genetic experiment, are Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. Both actors were at the top of Natali’s list for the realism and intelligence they exude. Fortunately the two were into the idea just as much as Natali was.
“They are both perverted and twisted individuals so they really, really liked the script,” he jokes. “They are really warm actors and their onscreen personas are such that it’s easy to emotionally connect with them. That was important because their charactees do some highly questionable things and yet I don’t think at any point in the film you ever lose your emotional ties to them.”
The look of the film is something Natali feels is just as important as the story. And while he doesn’t believe it’s as stylized as some of his previous work, Splice is very artistic in a subtle way.
“I felt that given the fact the science of the movie isn’t that far from the real science and the fact that the story is so emotional that it would be more powerful and more shocking if I treated it in a more realistic way. I actually tried to be quite naturalistic with this one,” he says.
Some might feel the biggest challenge for Natali was creating Dren, the creature that is born out of Clive and Elsa’s experiment, and making sure the animation blended into the scenes smoothly. In reality it was a handful of boardroom scenes that Natali struggled with.
“The hardest part of the film for me as the director was cutting those stupid boardroom scenes together because they are so goddamn boring,” he states. “They are just so expositional and static,” he adds.
Whether his background as a storyboard artist helps him as a director, Natali says it certainly does.
“When you make films with very low budgets like I normally do you need to be very well prepared and have to know what you’re going to shoot before you shoot it. Especially when you have a lot of visual effects.”
Speaking of visual effects, Natali doesn’t rule out working on a 3-D film but he also doesn’t feel the technology is up to par with where it can be.
“In principle I’m not opposed to it but I have yet to have the perfect 3-D experience. Even Avatar, which was an extraordinary accomplishment, still is not perfect in my opinion. Where we are at in the development of the medium is at a point where commercial films, by necessity, have to be immersive. Because it’s the only way to get people off their living room couches and into a movie theatre. You just have to sensory overload them and right now it seems that 3-D is the way to do that.”
Could we see Splice 2 in 3-D?
“It could happen. I never thought it would but at this particular moment I would say it’s a distinct possibility,” he says of the idea of a sequel.
Going back to what he wants the audience to get out of Splice, he adds, “[It] very intentionally pushes buttons and pushes the audience to places that they normally aren’t taken to before. I think it’s outrageous and bizarre, and if you walk out of the theatre unaffected then I have failed at my job.”
Splice is in theatres on June 4. Find out more at splicethefilm.com.
Top image: A scene from Splice. Courtesy E1 Entertainment.