Mother-Daughter Drama: In Splice, Sarah Polley (right) plays a Toronto researcher whose gene-splicing adventures spawn a sinister if seductive new creature (Delphine Chaneac) — whose accelerated adolescence is one turbulent affair.
Mother-Daughter Drama: In Splice, Sarah Polley (right) plays a Toronto researcher whose gene-splicing adventures spawn a sinister if seductive new creature (Delphine Chaneac) — whose accelerated adolescence is one turbulent affair. Warner Bros.
Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and languageWith: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Simona Maicanescu (Recommended)
- Director: Vincenzo Natali
- Genre: Science-Fiction Horror
- Running Time: 100 minutes
The literal and metaphorical center of Splice is a giant mechanical womb from which two ultrahip geneticists, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), birth the squirming results of their experiments. So far, these partners-in-love-and-science have produced two blind, sluglike creatures, squishy baguettes called Fred and Ginger whose unlovely bodies have yielded cures for a variety of bovine diseases.
Elsa's womb, however, remains empty, so when the couple secretly decide to introduce some human DNA into their genetic broth, she slips some of her own into the pot. Blissfully unaware of the personalized recipe, Clive is horrified when its premature fruition — in a magnificently orchestrated, cesarean-like sequence — reveals a creature that rapidly grows into a cross between a plucked chicken and a velociraptor. With vocal stylings to match.
Splice may look like a monster movie, and certainly it draws much of its inspiration from the Frankenstein myth — there's a reason Polley's character is called Elsa. But it's really a parenting drama, expertly tweaking the anxieties of any mother whose child is just that little bit different.
The film's greatest accomplishment is its ability to change tone at least three times without losing the audience: As the quirkily named Dren ("nerd" backwards) grows into a bald, poison-tailed supermodel (beautifully played by Delphine Chaneac), the film morphs right along with her. Through humor, horror and religious symbolism, the story's unpredictability grips our attention; by the time Dren begins to exhibit avian and amphibian talents — not to mention a supercharged sex drive — we're thoroughly hooked.
The fourth feature from the Toronto-based director Vincenzo Natali (Cube), Splice has an out-of-control energy and elemental sense of wonder that's endearingly strange. Natali is adept at merging the intellectual and the entertaining, and here he digs into gender taboos with a crude but unflinching scalpel, confronting the castrating mother and incestuous father without losing either his momentum or our sympathy for the characters.
You Parent Your Way: Adrien Brody (right) plays Polley's husband and research partner, whose buy-in on the whole baby project is partial at best.
You Parent Your Way: Adrien Brody (right) plays Polley's husband and research partner, whose buy-in on the whole baby project is partial at best. Warner Bros.
Displaying a Cronenbergian obsession with flesh and penetration — there are notable nods to eXistenZ and even Videodrome — the director demolishes gender barriers with rather more enthusiasm than subtlety; consequently it's no surprise when Clive and Elsa's female creations begin to exhibit the characteristics of angry males.
Though far from perfect (the ending is a bit of a mess), Splice coasts on a hell-for-leather pace and terrific performances. Brody is marvelous, but this is Polley's film: playfully intelligent, maniacally protective and more domineering with every scene, she plays Elsa as a woman driven to fulfill a human urge by inhuman means. Alert to the way a terrifyingly bright mind can become intoxicated with its own power, the film is another reminder that trying to play God only opens the door for the devil. And he's going to be really, really mad. (Recommended)