Take a healthy dash of James Whale (partially Frankenstein, but mostly Bride), mix it with an unapologetic homage to the best in David Cronenberg-meets-Stuart Gordon "body horror," and spice it up with a very amusing tale of his & hers mad scientist lunacy, and you'd probably get a flick that looks a lot like Vincenzo Natali's Splice. The vital ingredient here, however, is the young genre master's passion for his disparate influences and (best of all) his ability to take several familiar components and craft them into something so novel, engrossing, and, well, different.
Director of the cult classic Cube and the lesser-known (but rock solid) Nothing and Cypher, Natali has now crafted a true Frankenstein tale for the modern age. Imagine what the 19th century version of Dr. Frankenstein could have done with things like stem cells and DNA strands ... and you're halfway to understanding what Splice is all about. Fans of horror and dark science fiction will of course delight in Splice's roughest, stickiest, and most challenging moments, but of course it's what's below the surface that really tells the tale.
Essentially a very well-crafted new version of "Don't Screw With Mother Nature," Splice is about a pair of hotshot scientists (played very well by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) who have already crafted a pair of giant worms that somehow hold the DNA of numerous animals (including fish, fowl, and mammal), but have their sights set on the big brass ring of genetics: the inclusion of some human cells.
This is entirely forbidden, but that doesn't stop Clive and Elsa (even their names sing of horror movie affection) from injecting some human juice into their creature ... and boy, are they in for it. Those expecting a simplistic "monster gone mad" story may end up disappointed, because Splice is less about the newborn creature "Dren" than it is about the slow and twisted depths that our heroes (?) are willing to plumb -- all in the name of science, of course.
But what a strange and fascinating creature this "Dren" is. Partially humanoid but with bird-like feet, skinny little arms, and a blank but entirely alien visage, she's just twisted enough to be interesting and (ultimately) just human enough to sympathize with. Hats off to Natali's FX crews on their "Dren" work, because it's really quite excellent. Particularly in the film's late sections -- when "Dren" is fully grown, weirdly attractive, and dealing with all sorts of urges, the character goes from revolting to tragic to horrifying. (French actress Delphine Chaneac is staggeringly convincing as the fully mature creature.)
And like I said, Clive and Elsa, for all their collective brilliance, have no idea what to do with the beast they've unleashed. They're more than capable of creating a part-human, six-part-animal "abomination," but they have no idea what it actually wants. Or what they want from it. That's bad science.
Natali is clever enough to sprinkle some dark and twisted levity across his potentially absurd movie, which helps a lot during the third act madness. Brody and Polley provide invaluable support to a concept that could have turned out plain old silly with lesser performers, plus (if you want to get a little film school), Splice is also shot like a dream, cut to a tee, and oddly enough ... a lot of fun.
Loaded with genre moments both simply gory and admirably intense, Splice is a powerfully brazen re-telling of an oft-told tale, but in the hands of some filmmakers who actually have some salient points to make among their horrors (both recycled and unique), it still works alarmingly well.