June 10, 2010

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Splice (R)
It’s probably not a good idea to mix human DNA with that of a bat, chicken, mole and fish, as we learn in Splice, a truly creepy bit of sci-fi-flavored horror.

Not that bat + chicken + mole + fish + human = monster is necessarily the equation here. Those are just the animals suggested by the various physical features of Dren (Delphine Chaneac), the chicken-mole baby created by scientists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). They start off the movie as creators of some sort of cow-worm thing that allegedly contains proteins somehow useful for livestock. When the company declines to fund further research in the gene-splice field in favor of creating some profit-making livestock pharmaceuticals, Elsa and Clive make some after-hours use of the biomechanical womb and other fun equipment to do a little genetic Frankensteining. They don’t plan on carrying their creation to term, but it is “born” sooner than they expect. They don’t plan on letting it live, but Elsa is enchanted by the chicken-mole baby and is soon teaching it to read and play games. It grows at an accelerated rate — the size of a three-year-old in a week or two, a teenager in a month or so. And, sure, it has snake eyes and a tail with a razor-sharp stinger that can administer deadly poison, but Elsa loves little venomous Dren, the name she gives her horrible abomination.

Splice is a wonderfully dreary movie stylistically, and a deeply creepy movie psychologically. It goes all sorts of horrible places that most movies only hint at, but it does it in a way that is true to the movie and to its very flawed characters. Elsa and Clive are married; Clive wants children, Elsa had a difficult relationship with her mother that makes her unsure about her own prospective motherhood. Elsa and Clive cross ethical boundaries — though one doesn’t always know how far the other has gone. Dren’s creation is allegedly about science but there are many other disturbing things that play into why and how the couple keep her alive. Splice does a good job of balancing the monster-horror with the monster-within stuff and puts it all in a gloomy setting of dark labs and snowy days that fills every scene with dread.

Splice might not be everyone’s cup of tea — violence, psychological horror, a mild case of scatteredness toward the end — but it is what this summer movie season sorely needs. It is something different that has the ability to offer the occasional chill and a bit of very dark thrill. B

Rated R for disturbing elements including strong sexuality, nudity, sci-fi violence and language. Directed by Vincenzo Natali and written by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor, Splice is an hour and 44 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.