Welcome to your average 21st-century genetic thriller, featuring anthropomorphism, parenting dilemmas, interspecies sex, and transgender issues, all which should come with a Freudian warning label. But to dismiss Canadian-American director Vincenzo Natali’s often-schlocky horror flick is a mistake. The subject matter is too bizarre and compulsively interesting.
The genetics team of Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have developed a male and female of a walrus-like organism they name Ginger and Fred. The mutants mate, which is good news for NERD (Nuclei Exchange Research and Development), a biotech company that hopes to extract their proteins for medical research. But control-freak Elsa, a tomboy with a checkered past, wants to charge ahead into uncharted human territory. The company balks, as does passive lover Clive. No matter. Elsa sneaks her own DNA into a Ginger egg, and presto: Out comes an inspired she-devil with a perky tail.
Elsa dubs the girl-thing Dren, Nerd spelled backwards, and though the clicking infant is no one’s bundle of joy, Elsa’s mommy instincts resist Clive’s wariness — until, that is, Dren morphs into a fast-growing amphibian with a stinger tale, a penchant raw flesh, and… daddy love. At which point all kinds of walls come tumbling down. Junky horror tropes aside, the story begs good and quirky questions about genetic capriciousness and trans-species morality. As Dren grows into a confused temptress, even the anarchic Clive is chastened. “We changed the rules,” he says. You betcha.
Seen in terms of human frailty and the risks of tampering with DNA, “Splice” is genetic agitprop. French beauty Delphine Chanéac (shaved bald) is wonderfully weird as Dren, a warped avenging angel who doubles as a whining teen supermodel. Overall, just as much is silly as stunning, but this kind of territory still deserves passengers.