STARRING: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac

2009, 104 Minutes, Directed by:
Vincenzo Natali

A person cannot choose his or her parents, and a laboratory-born genetic hybrid can't choose its creators. That is the existential dilemma faced by the lab test turned emotionally battered creature of Splice . . .

She starts off as a slimy little section with a tail, hatches into a freaky but cuddly little bounding ball of pink flesh, and quickly grows into a digitally altered actress with a bald head, eyes too far apart, tail with a stinger, and legs that bend inward. Somewhere along the way, she becomes a psychological mess, too.

This is the movie's most fascinating turn, which makes monsters of its heroes while leaving its literal monster the victim of their hubris and need to control. They never call themselves the creature's parents, but after she has a hissy fit, leading one of them to tie her to an impromptu operating table for punishment, the point is pretty clear. Here's one for the nurture argument, a specimen that goes amuck after inadequate parenting by a couple of scientists who have their own issues.

The scientists are Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley). They are working on creating new species by splicing others together. Their most recent results are a pair of pods that could result in new proteins to aid in the fight against diseases.

They want to move forward with their research but are cut short by the company funding the work. In spite of the legal ramifications, Clive and Elsa decide to test their first design again but with human DNA in the mix.

The subject's growth is faster than anticipated, and suddenly, the two are confronted with the challenge of raising this new creature on their own and hiding it from the world.

"Splice boasts an intriguing premise, but is sadly let down by a rote conclusion . . ."

The script tosses aside the obvious ethical question of whether or not using human DNA in creating a new species is right with the sound logic that the possible advances in disease treatment outweighs moral outrage. In its place is the next step in the quandary—one of responsibility.

Dren (Abigail Chu as a child and Delphine Chanéac as an adult), as the new animal is named, is rapidly aging, learning with astounding quickness, and apparently conscious of her existence. Clive wants to destroy it even before its artificial birth, attempting to gas her and drown her on two separate occasions. Elsa's maternal instincts get in the way the first time, and an oversight on Dren's anatomical structure foils him the second. Turns out Dren has amphibious lungs. And she sprouts wings after her parents refuse to let her outside.

Elsa immediately treats Dren as a child, dressing her, giving her old dolls, and teaching her how to put on makeup (Elsa tells Dren she remembers what it was like to be that age, "that age" being a relative comparison). Clive tells his wife that she's treating their experiment like a pet, after a long, considering pause, unsure whether to say "child" as he's obviously thinking. Clive wants to have a baby, but Elsa isn't ready. Dren, he tells her later on, is her way of having a kid without the uncertainty. It's an experiment to control.

Dren is also a way for Elsa to work out and project issues she had with her own mother. The little information screenwriters Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor, and director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) offer about Elsa's childhood is enough.

When Clive and Elsa's secret comes closer to being discovered, they bring Dren to Elsa's childhood farm home, where Elsa can be reminded of her troubled upbringing and inflict the same kind of emotional damage on her "daughter," all in the name of science.

The movie holds true to its ethical setup until and through this part. It however falls apart in the follow-through. Without his own parental problems with which to deal, Clive switches gears from outright hate to uncomfortable love, as Dren is conveniently human in certain anatomical facets. The third act relies on a sudden, overtly foreshadowed shift in Dren (the scene that sets it up, a shareholders meeting that goes horribly, bloodily awry, is quite funny).

That change in Dren negates the movie's initial argument, turning her into a monster of her own nature. The script drops its moral explorations and turns into a typical horror-style hunt sequence (plopping on a useless coda which only adds the ironic note that Clive and Elsa might not have needed to be so secretive).

The let-down of the finale of Splice is amplified by the intrigue of its premise. With such ambitions, it deserves more than such a rote conclusion.

- Mark Dujsik



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