By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Vincenzo Natali
STARS Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley
Fans of classic monster movies will see Splice and of course immediately think of Frankenstein. Connoisseurs of modern horror-science fiction mixes will check it out and be reminded of such works as Species and David Cronenberg's take on The Fly. But who could have possibly guessed that the film that served as its primary inspiration was apparently Ron Howard's comedy-drama Parenthood?
OK, so I'm being facetious, but the truth is that what initially appears to be yet another picture in which mortals dare to play God by creating life turns out to be more layered than that. In Splice, scientists and lovers Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley), already successful with combining animal DNA to produce new life forms, opt to take their experiments even further by merging human and animal DNA. The result is a strange hybrid that, as with real infants, looks less sluggish and more humanoid as it grows older. Initially unsure how to react, Clive and especially Elsa soon are treating the creature, now named Dren, as if she were their own child. And like any offspring, Dren (created through a seamless mix of special effects and actresses specifically, Abigail Chu in the toddler years and Delphine Chaneac in the teen-plus phase) sometimes has trouble with authority, to say nothing of the internal changes caused by being part human, part fish and part fowl.
A cleverly disguised expose on the challenges of parenthood, with riffs on abortion and the Electra complex thrown in for good measure, Splice is inventive enough that it's a real shame when it falls apart heading into the home stretch. A major plot development isn't sufficiently explored to be convincing (just as Re-Animator gave twisted new meaning to the expression "giving head," this scene creates a double entendre out of "getting into your work"), and the picture wraps up with the sort of conventional horror thrills and (snore) "ironic" ending that have pulled many a fine picture down. If director-cowriter Vincenzo Natali elects to splice together the body of this film with a new, better ending for the DVD release, I won't complain.