Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are Clive and Elsa, two fetching young geneticists whose romantic forays into bioengineering go about as well as you’d expect from a movie that names its characters after actors in Bride of Frankenstein. Which isn’t to say that director Vincenzo Natali and his cowriters Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor are especially old-fashioned. Rather, they strain to be edgy and topical. It’s just that they’re also preoccupied with matters of offspring.
Nothing compares 2 Dren, the Sinead O’Connoresque creation at the center of Splice.
After combining the DNA of various animals into a pair of enormous, pharmacologically useful slugs, Clive and Elsa grow eager to see what they might whip up by throwing some human genes into the mix. Their corporate overseers seem less keen on the idea, and you would too after the deliciously horrible scene in which a demonstration ends up showering the shareholders with glass and blood. But Clive and Elsa are ambitious, and before we or they know it, Clive and Elsa have become the proud—if a little ashamed—parents of a little baby rodent-bird-amphibian-arthropod girl.
They call her “Dren,” because that’s “nerd” spelled backward and their lab is called Nucleic Exchange Research and Development. They determine that she “craves high-sucrose foodstuffs,” which seems normal enough, and that she “develops like a fetus outside the womb,” which seems less normal, but does at least present some invigorating challenges, both personal and scientific. (Not to mention cinematic: Natali marshals Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero’s excellent special effects with discretion enough to allow for an actual performance as the developing Dren by little Abigail Chu.) Then, needing privacy to fully slough off the pretense of their professional principles and delve into their respective parent issues, they spirit her away to Elsa’s long abandoned family farm—how convenient!—out in the gloomy woods.
Kids grow up so fast, don’t they? Especially when the movie needs them to. Soon enough, Dren has developed to the point where she’s played by the model Delphine Chanéac—all ornery, attention-wanting, bald and sexy, like Sinead O’Connor with a stinging tail and kangaroo legs. Physical details hereafter are best left vague.
Suffice to say there’s a lot going on in Splice. It’s not quite the subversive cult-movie romp it might have been, although transgenderism, incest and bestiality all at once has to count for something. And Brody and Polley remain impressively undaunted by all the confused instincts, Freudian eruptions and other karmic consequences that Natali and company hurl at them.
In its final act, Splice seems to have hemorrhaged all inspiration, and finally just trudges to an obligatory bore of an action climax. Of course this might be par for the course of a movie whose point, at least in part, is: “Well, that was a bad idea.”