Director: Vincenzo Natali
Cast: Adrien Brody, Delphine Chanéac, Sarah Polley
We've all been there. Created our own species by splicing together random genes. Created our own species and then introduced some human DNA just for kicks. Created our own species with human DNA and then raised the creature in secret. Created our own human-derived species and raised it in secret before developing a warped psycho-sexual relationship with it. We've all been there. If you haven't been there, get ready to see some weird stuff.
Weird is the best word for Vincenzo Natali's sci-fi creep-out session. It's been a while since we had a good old screw-mother-nature-we're-scientists movie, and Natali's happy to provide it. Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) are genetic researchers, funded to splice together genes to find cures for various diseases. She's driven and focussed, slightly off-balance thanks to a dodgy family history. He's idealistic, passionate, clever, and in love. So when she decides to push the boundaries of their experiments just that one step too far, he goes along with it.
Then, things get out of hand. In true B-Movie tradition, we soon have ourselves a classic Frankenstein's monster to deal with: Dren (Chaneac), a mutated blend of bird, human, something with a spiky tail and something else with no hair. She communicates through clicks and purrs, never saying a word but captivating her creators from the start. Soon Elsa's got a motherly thing going on, and Clive's the cute step-dad who regrets bringing her into the world in the first place.
As their funding comes under threat, emotions escalate and soon things descend into one heck of a mess. It's not hard to guess what happens - think Elektra complex with wings. But where things get derivative and laughable, the cast's committed performances make it work. Brody and Polley are familiar characters, believably stupid, completely human, and they easily pull off the contrived scenarios and cheesy dialogue: "I didn't know you had a barn!" is perhaps the worst line in movie history.
But even more engaging is Dren, the scrabble-playing lab-rat with an eerily alien face and some serious hormone issues. A seamless combination of puppet-work, CGI, and mute acting, Natali's monster is both disarming and horrific in one graceful swoop: not since Cronenberg's The Fly has science fiction been this freaky and interesting. And as messed up as things get (they really do get messed up), this is a horror movie through and through: it wants to disturb and unsettle.
With a witty streak of dark humour, it's no surprise that Guillermo Del Toro is executive producer here. The effects are great, but the thing that makes Splice work is its emotional core: it's a family drama of the worst kind, but it has a psychological bond that keeps it together.
Terrifying and gross, Splice gives its horrible theme a twisted heart. As disturbing as it is fascinating.