Gene-splicing sci-fi drama cooks up something that's a little in-betweenEqual parts "Species" and "The Savage is Loose," the eccentric and crafty new thriller "Splice" isn't for audiences who require strong, noble rooting interests in their questing protagonists of science.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, neither of whom make it a habit to play for audience sympathy in any circumstance, portray genetic engineers and lovers funded by a cash-strapped pharmaceutical company. They have successfully created a new bloblike hybrid creature, featuring DNA from various species. From these test cases they hope to come up with the genetic goods to cure cancer, save lives, become famous.
Then they take the experiments too far, creating a … a … thing that is partly human (she's female), but with various distinguishing features that make sense in the horror genre. These features include a tail with a deadly stinger; legs like a chicken, or a dinosaur; and an accelerated life cycle, so "Splice" plays out like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in reverse, which is to say: forward.
Director Vincenzo Natali ("Cube"), working from a script he co-wrote with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, frames the material as a metaphoric parental nightmare. The creature known as "Dren," played as a young adult by Delphine Chaneac, represents every last scarifying aspect not covered in the book "What to Expect When You're Expecting." When Polley's character, who has a dark past indeed, first realizes what they've created, she's gratified for the chance to be a mother. Brody's character reacts to the dilemma somewhat differently, and one of the best scenes in an increasingly nerve-racking picture begins as an attempted murder but ends as something else. Polley and Brody serve the story well, conveying a world of moral and physical anxiety.
Are audiences going to be up for this? The sexual component to "Splice" pushes the story in provocatively eerie directions. The film, much of which takes place in laboratories or at the couple's isolated farmhouse, doesn't deliver "the usual." I was fine with that — grateful, in fact. A little queasy in the stomach, but grateful.
MPAA rating: R (for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language)
Cast: Adrien Brody (Clive Nicoli); Sarah Polley (Elsa Kast); Delphine Chaneac (Dren); Simona Maicanescu (Joan Chorot)
Credits: Directed by Vincenzo Natali; written by Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor; produced by Steven Hoban. A Warner Bros. Pictures release. Running time: 1:40.