Splice (2011) movie poster

(2009) dir. Vincenzo Natali
viewed: 06/04/10 at AMC Loews Metreon 16, SF, CA

Modern day Frankenstein’s don’t have to dig up dead bodies, piece them together, and jolt them with electricity to create life.  They use DNA and cutting edge technology to modify the stuff, “splice” different DNA together, to create new species.  And while there is actual factual truth to some of that, that is also the premise of the horror film Splice starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley.

Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali (Cube (1997)), Splice is, in many ways, a modern take on an old tale.  But in its modernity, the scientists are young hipster lovers, who look a little way too cool to be hanging out in the lab.  Even their apartment looks like it was decorated by Giant Robot magazine contributors.  At the beginning of the film, they have already created a pair of fleshy grub-like creatures, one male and one female, for their bio-med company, tapping into new enzymes and compounds that the creatures contain, which can be synthesized for new medicines.

But Polley wants to kick it up a notch.  Adding human DNA to the mix.

What comes about is some David Cronenbergian creation, perhaps with a dash of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and some other sci-fi flicks from the past several years.  But it’s also something a bit new, too.  What they create is humanoid, growing fast, aging fast, and still evolving even after bursting from its in utero state.  It’s bald head has a fetal character to it with slightly digitally enlarged and widened eyes, funky chicken-cum-kangaroo-like legs, and eventually more and more physical surprises.  Oh year, and a tail with a poisonous spike on the end.

One of the more amusing aspects of the film is the parental nightmare into which Brody and Polley are thrown.  Like all new parents, they have to learn to deal with messy feedings, noisy cries, a sick child.  In a sense it’s not unlike Jan Svankmajer’s Little Otik (2000), another parable about the strains of parenting nightmares.  And often this is played up here for moderate comic effect.  The parental relationships play out in interesting and perverse ways, from the difficulties and joys of teaching to the urge of infanticide, parents caught in the act of sex, punishment and mutilation, incest, rape, and killing the family pet.

Delphine Chanéac plays “Dren”, the creature, as she reaches full-size and the mixture of her abnormalities with her otherwise humanly beauty are key to the film’s effect, the design of the new being.   Polley and Brody are good, especially Polley, who is quite a likeable actress.  And while the film isn’t so fresh or so exciting or so inventive as to be a sort of stellar stand-out of a horror/science fiction film, it’s a pretty enjoyable effort.

And the message here, that playing “God” with human DNA is something not to be taken lightly, the message is almost as strong as the most traditional way of combining DNA and making a new creature (traditional procreation) can lead to some rather harrowing results.  What parent who has lived through the earliest years with a young child doesn’t have horror stories such as these?  Luckily most children don’t have poison-tipped spiked tails.