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Interview: Vincenzo Natali, writer/director of SPLICE

Interview: Vincenzo Natali, writer/director of SPLICE

"Are we leading the technology, or is it the other way around?"
By Anders Wotzke
Aug 9, 2010
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller Release Date: 12/08/2010 Runtime: 104 minutes Country: Canada, France, USA


Director:  Vincenzo Natali Writer(s): 
Vincenzo Natali

Antoinette Terry Bryant

Doug Taylor

Vincenzo Natali

Antoinette Terry Bryant

Adrien Brody
Sarah Polley
Delphine Chanéac
Brandon McGibbon

Independent American-Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali first burst on to the scene in 1997 with the surreal, low-budget psychological thriller Cube.  The film gathered such a large cult following, it spawned two sequels, Cube 2: Hypercube and Cube Zero, neither of which Natali returned to direct. Instead, he began developing the story for an original sci-fi horror film that would eventually become Splice.

A throwback to classic monster movies such as Frankenstein and The Fly, Splice follows two geneticists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), as they take genetic engineering to the next level by creating a human/animal hybrid named Dren (Delphine Chanéac).

Although Splice was meant to be Natali’s follow-up to Cube, the director was forced to postpone the project as it proved to be too expensive to develop during the late 90s. In the meantime, he directed two other independent films, Cypher and Nothing, while waiting for the technology required to produce Splice to become more affordable. In 2007, the film finally went into production, the result of which you can see in Australian cinemas on August 12.  You can read our review of Splice here.

While promoting the film here in Australia, I had the pleasure to talk with the delightfully humble and well-spoken Natali over the phone about the film’s classic horror roots, prevalent existential themes  and how audience have reacted to “that” scene.

Warning: potential spoilers lie ahead!

CUT PRINT REVIEW: First of all, congratulations on getting Splice a release here in Australia! It’s rare enough for an independent film to get a studio-backed release in the US, let alone a wide international release.

VINCENZO NATALI: [Laughs] Oh I know. I’m still processing it. It’s hard for me to believe.

CPR: What I like most about Splice is that it’s the kind of horror film we rarely anymore; slow-burning, atmospheric and character driven. It’s really worlds apart from the films we would label ‘horror’ nowadays, isn’t it?

VN: Thank you! But yeah, I’m a tremendous fan of horror films, but I have to say, of a particular kind of horror films. I’ve never been – with few rare exceptions – into slasher films. I guess you could say my real interest in horror dates back to the old James Whale Frankenstein films.

CPR: Absolutely, you can definitely feel that from the film.

VN: Yeah, you can see the influence. And I have to say that the reason I wanted to make the movie, what made it so unique, was because it was this combination of a creature movie – in the truest sense of the term – but one that is spliced with  a relationship story. It was the amalgamation of those two things.

CPR: I like the way you snuck ‘spliced’ into that sentence there…

VN: [Laughs] I know, I probably use it a little bit too liberally. But it’s easy; it’s a good crutch.

CPR: I have to say that, although I think the trailer for Splice is well cut, it’s actually quite misleading in that makes the film out to be a standard jump-from-the-shadows kind of film and not the more nuanced film it actually is.  What do you think? How much say do you have in the way the film has been marketed?

VN: Well, not really. I have to say I really like all our distributors on this film. They have consulted with me, but it’s really not my place to say how the film should be distributed. I actually trust them because they know how things are best marketed. Invariably, they’ve gone down that road.

It would be a fascinating experiment to try and release the film two different ways and see which one flies. I would be curious to know whether the more truthful, emotional-based trailer would work better. I don’t know though. I honestly don’t know. I think the assumption is that the audience that wants to go see a horror film wants to be jolted.

CPR: Oh definitely. At the same time though, I think not knowing the true identity of the film from the trailer was, for me, a pleasant surprise when I actually went to see the film. Ironically enough, I was shocked because it wasn’t an in-your-face shocker. I think that surprise actually added to my experience.

VN: Yeah! Well I feel that way too. As a seasoned moviegoer, I want to be surprised. So I’m glad that’s the case.

2010 splice 0071 e1280477451643 600x264 Interview: Vincenzo Natali, writer/director of SPLICE

Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody in Splice

CPR: A word that’s often used to describe yourself and your films is ‘existential’, which seems fair in the case of Splice given that it’s about the choices we make and the consequences of them. Is that a school of thought you associate with your works?

VN: With my life! Yeah, that’s definitely how I see things. I’m definitely – I don’t know if I’d call myself an existentialist, because that’s a fairly loaded word.  But I definitely subscribe to a world view that doesn’t include a God who is going to judge us and I do think that we are responsible for ourselves. So I think that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree with my works and what I think.

CPR: I’m not much of philosopher, so I’m a bit confused as to how science fits into the thinking of existentialism. I always got the impression the two went hand in hand, but Splice doesn’t exactly give science a good wrap…

VN: Yeah, it’s a funny thing — when I was making the film, I was well aware that I wasn’t exactly portraying genetic engineering in the best possible light. [Laughs] It is very much the worst case scenario, but of course, it is also a horror film so hopefully people will take that with a grain of salt.

I’m not opposed to the technology, at all. I think it’s a necessary thing and a good thing, in many respects. It just has to be approached in a responsible way. But what I do think is interesting, and something that is bought up in the film although not overtly, is that I’m not sure whose leading. Like, are we leading the technology, or is it the other way around?

CPR: Yeah, it’s at the point now where there’s no clear leader.

VN: I think so. Like, if I had to guess, I will say that our technology will outlive us. That we’re sort of the seed for something else. And much like in the way Clive and Elsa – perhaps accidentally – have made something that is a step up on the evolutionary ladder and ultimately is the thing that will supplant human beings at the top of the food chain. But yeah, we may be the parents of our own demise. We’ll be responsible for the thing that comes next.

CPR: It’s always been that way though, hasn’t it? For instance, when electricity was invented, we all feared the birth of Frankenstein. When we were sending manned missions into outer space, we all feared the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Now it’s a fear of A.I and genetic engineering.

VN: I totally agree. I think humans just naturally have a very ambivalent perspective on technology. But I’m also fascinated with, say, Japanese culture which is much more accepting. You know, the Japanese just don’t have a problem with robots.

CPR: That’s true. They’re actually building them to consciously replace the human population they’re losing…

VN: Yeah, absolutely. They’re building robots to look after old people and have these robot receptionists. For them, they’re not uncomfortable with that. I can guess, as a society, why that is, but they just are much more accepting of that. Whereas in the West, we’re still very much threatened by the technology.

CPR: For sure. The West still holds most of the power – for now, anyway – and I think that makes our society more wary of anything that could take that away.

VN: Absolutely.

splice021 e1281333554508 600x276 Interview: Vincenzo Natali, writer/director of SPLICE

Sarah Polley’s character Elsa engages with baby Dren, an entirely CGI creature.

CPR: Speaking of technology, I must say the CGI is Splice spectacular. The way Dren interacts with the cast as a baby is exceptionally well done. How on earth did you manage to produce such remarkable effects on a relatively tight budget [$26 million]?

VN: Well, we just poured all our money into the effects! [Laughs] At least, a sizeable portion of it. But that was kind of inherent in the design of the movie. I knew this was never going to be a big movie. So the idea was that I would make this a chamber piece, with just a few characters and a few locations. Then I’ll put everything I’ve got left into the creature. Because, no matter what, the creature was going to be expensive. And Splice, for an independent film, actually has quite a large budget. Of course, for a Hollywood film it’s a very small budget.

But yeah, that’s really how we did it. We had some really great artists who were dedicated yet didn’t earn much money. We did it very slowly as well. Surprisingly, while a lot of Hollywood films have a tremendous amount of money, they have very tight deadlines. They have to turn them around fast. So they have a lot of people doing the visual effects — at once — in a very short amount of time. In this case we had relatively few people, but working over a long period of time. And that’s a preferable way to go because I was personally involved with everything and I could be very meticulous.

CPR: Considering a lot of CGI work is now handled internationally by multiple FX studios, that kind of control is rare…

VN: Yeah and when you deal with CGI, the thing you realise is that it’s all about the details. Little, tiny, almost subliminal things can make the difference between something feeling real and not working at all.

CPR: I think that’s why Dren, as both a creature and a character, works. She’s believable because theirs is, after all, a human actress in there.

VN: Well I always envisioned adult Dren being played by a person, not a digital creation. Because I thought that Dren could be a creature we could believe in. I wanted to scale her down to a human level. The temptation, of course, when making a creature movie is making the creature larger than life. But in this case I thought “no, let’s make a creature that’s biologically plausible. That feels totally real.” So, actually, Dren is not that far from a human. I mean, we changed the human form in very subtle ways and a lot of people think it’s more disturbing because of that. Because it’s the little changes that are sometimes more shocking than the big ones.

CPR: Yeah, that’s true. She’s not entirely human, but she’s also strangely attractive because she’s not entirely monster. It’s really quite an unsettling dynamic.

VN: Yeah and that was actually quite tricky to do. As in, finding the right equilibrium between repulsion and attraction. Just one without the other would have been disastrous.

2010 splice 0121 e1280477526668 600x320 Interview: Vincenzo Natali, writer/director of SPLICE

As an adult, Dren is played by French model/actress Delphine Chanéac with elements of CGI

CPR: There’s a scene in this film that has obviously caused its fair share of controversy, which I think is great; it’s challenging audiences, which I don’t think happens enough. So what’s been the most extreme reaction toward the film you’ve encountered?

VN: I head second hand that somebody – I wasn’t in the audience for this screening – that someone screamed at the screen “you’re fucking SICK!” [Laughs]

CPR: [Laughs] That’s great!

VN: I think that was directed at Adrien Brody’s character, not me!

CPR: Well it is quite unexpected coming from Adrien, who you know, has a fair reputation to protect. I mean, it’s not like he’s trying to break into the industry with a bang, he’s already won his Oscar. So I think it’s quite a daring move on his behalf.

VN: Oh, I think it’s tremendously courageous. I don’t think we normal people appreciate how much is on the line with somebody like Adrien does a movie like this. And he did not question it. Ever. He went in with both feet and he loved it. He was nothing but supportive of it. And, man, I think that just takes balls.

CPR: Definitely. Ok one last question before I let you go; what’s a film made within the last 10-15 years – so within your career, or thereabouts — that you wish you had made?

VN: Se7en. I just love that film. I think it’s the perfect movie. But that’s a little bit before my career started…

CPR: Well, I did say 15 years so I think you can get away with that…

VN: [Laughs] That’s ok then….

CPR: Thanks your time Vincenzo, it’s been wonderful talking to you. Best of luck with the film!

VN: Thank you so much! I really appreciate it.

Splice opens nationally in Australia on August 12, 2010. Read our review here.

Follow the author Anders Wotzke on Twitter.

Category: Interviews
Date Published: August 9th, 2010
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