Part “Frankenstein,” part “Species,” and part “Rosemary’s Baby,” the impressive horror/sci-fi/thriller “Splice” stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as arrogant genetic engineers who create a new lifeform in their laboratory and try to keep it secret.
It wouldn’t be a horror flick if their experiment was a success and it bettered humankind, so it’s not a surprise when the creature eventually wreaks all kinds of havoc.
What is a surprise is that it’s not a simple case of a special–effects driven monster going around killing people. “Splice,” directed by Vincenzo Natali, is at its best when it offends our notions of right and wrong by continuing down some pretty bold story paths.
There are some traditional gore shocks (one of them is particularly funny), but mostly the tension comes from watching Brody and Polley’s well-crafted characters come together and splinter apart as they become “parents” of sorts and their tricky ethical dilemma worsens. And believe me, this movie will push all kinds of buttons for audiences and generate a lot more discussion than horror flicks typically do.
Despite being on the cover of Wired magazine, the funding for their research is on the verge of drying up. There are also some bumps in the road, relationship-wise. Clive (Brody) is ready to have a child, but Elsa (Polley) isn’t ready until their test-tube experiment is “born” and starts maturing at an alarming rate. (That particular device is brilliant, allowing the couple to parent the creature up to adulthood in a short amount of time.)
“Splice” heaps the moral quandaries upon this struggling couple, and it only amplifies their weaknesses and repressed feelings.
The creature itself, now named Dren, is wonderfully realized by two actresses (at different stages of her life) and Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero’s expertly blended make-up and special effects. I’ll go out on a limb now and say their excellent work will receive an Oscar nomination next year.
As Dren develops (as played by Delphine Chanéac with a potent mix of ferociousness, innocence, and sexuality), the film deepens. Her maturation is a constant source of mystery and tension, but she also plays the role of catalyst, leaving our hipster-nerd scientists to make their own bad decisions and push forward the drama themselves.
Like the classic Universal horror flicks of the 1930s (two actors from “Bride of Frankenstein”— Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive—are referenced by the scientists’ first names), the monster is portrayed sympathetically and it’s the humans who essentially become the monsters.
In the end, “Splice” abandons some of its more thought-provoking questions and opts for a less ambitious conclusion, but it’s still a very effective thriller with a dark sense of humor—and I guarantee people will be talking about this one long after the credits roll.