Though marketed as a monster-baby movie in the It’s Alive mold, Splice is actually one of the most intriguing genre outings in quite some time. Co-written and directed by Cube auteur Vincenzo Natali, Splice is an unconventional movie that seems to change style and tone on a scene-by-scene basis.
The film is at once a monster romp, sci-fi thought experiment, terrifying parental allegory, and cautionary tale about genetic engineering. That’s a lot of balls to keep juggle at once, but fortunately Natali nimbly dips in and out of each seemingly disparate element with enough skill to turn Splice into a potential cult film in the making.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as Clive and Elsa, a pair of implausibly attractive scientists, who have successfully spliced a variety of animal genes to create a disgusting little creature that looks like a slimy slug-brain rich with life-saving proteins. Their next step is to splice in human DNA but their investors suddenly back out. Clive and Elsa secretly create their human/animal hybrid, ending up with a strange little infant with a poisonous tail and kangaroo legs.
The couple initially planned to destroy their creation but Elsa becomes protective of the rapidly growing monster girl. Although childhood trauma keeps Elsa from wanting to become a mother, Dren gives Elsa the chance to rear a child within the comforting confines of a sterile laboratory. However, the surrogate parents slowly realize that life can’t be so easily contained, and the remainder of the film toggles between a cautionary tale of science run amok and a disturbing Freudian allegory for parental anxiety.
Though light on drippy gore, there are certainly enough shock sequences to please the horror hounds and enough subtext to win over viewers who don’t typically enjoy getting scared in the dark. The monster created by a mixture of practical effects, CGI, and actors is a remarkable technical creation. The fact that the creature has enough psychological complexity to win audience sympathy without losing its sense of movie-monster danger is undoubtedly what impressed Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) enough to attach his name to the project as an executive producer.
But despite all of the stylistic and technical tricks, Splice is ultimately a movie that succeeds on the depth of its themes and strength of its uncommonly good cast. Natali proved himself to be a intelligent director capable of audience mind-melting with Cube, but here finally has the budget and cast necessary to match his ideas. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are fantastic as the leads, while Delphine Chaneac is heartbreaking as Dren. Brody might sometimes be difficult to take seriously as an imposing action lead, but works perfectly as a weak-willed scientist. However, it’s Polley who steals the movie and ends up being more frightening than the monster as the questionable maternal instincts imposed on her by an abusive childhood begin to take over.
Though Splice is being released through Warner Brothers’ Dark Castle label, it’s actually an uncommonly high-budgeted Canadian film that’s been years in the making. It’s also one of the best movies to come out of Canada in a while, a brainy shocker that would make David Cronenberg proud.