They grow up so quickly, don’t they? One day they are slimy bipedal creatures who look like a cross between Yul Brenner and a slug, the next they are flesh eating, underwater breathing alien looking supermodel types. At least that’s the way it is in “Splice,” a new sci fi thriller starring Sarah Polley and Oscar winner Adrien Brody, about a creature who goes from newborn to troubled teen in a matter of weeks.
Clive (Brody) and Elsa (Polley) are bio chemists (and boyfriend and girlfriend) who develop a splicing technology which binds the DNA from multiple animals to create new life and, possibly, cures for everything from Parkinson’s to cancer. It’s the medical breakthrough of the century. The next logical step is to fuse human and animal DNA but despite their success in the lab, their employers, the evil conglomerate Newstead Pharma, is wary of the publicity such a radical step would incur. Secretly the pair go rogue, continue their experiments, and give “birth” to a new life form they dub Dren (that’s “nerd” backwards), a tailed creature resembling a bald dinosaur. Clive, conflicted by the ethical and moral issues of cloning, wants to kill the creature but Elsa won’t have it. “Human cloning is illegal,” she says, “but this won’t be entirely human.” Dren develops at a rapid pace, changing from unrecognizable organism to something akin to a humanoid kangaroo. Soon though problems arise. The creature becomes Daddy’s little… whatever, leaving Elsa to deal with Dren’s difficult puberty.
Like the hybrid creature at the center of the action “Splice” is a cross of genres—part b-movie sci fi and part body horror à la David Cronenberg. Liberally mixing “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “Frankenstein” and “The Brood,” “Splice” examines ideas of life and death, of playing God, of what is human (and what is not) and even touches on Woody Allen style relationships. There are plenty of moral concepts to chew on, many ruminations to be had on what it is to be human, but only if you look past the b-movie thrills director Vincenzo Natali slathers on with a trowel.
Splice goes places that bigger budget science fiction wouldn’t dare to tread. This isn’t the enviro-friendly sci fi of James Cameron or the space opera of George Lucas. No, this has more in common with the exploitation films of Roger Corman. There’s an icky creature, some scientist sexy time and loads of crazy science. Corman might not have been as successful at layering in the love, jealousy and real human emotions Natali heaps on his characters but I think the b-movie king would approve of “Splice’s” overall tone. It’s doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts but it’s funnier than you think it is going to be, wilder than expected—Sarah Polley’s maternal instincts towards Dren are right out of “Mommie Dearest”—and takes several unexpected twists and turns.
“Splice” is giddy good fun, the rare sci fi flick that revels in its b-movie roots while also offering up something to think about over a beaker of coffee afterward.