Movies: Splice * * *
(15A, limited release)
While by no means perfect, and in fact at times almost risible, Vincenzo Natali's Splice is easily the most interesting and daring sci-fi film I've seen in the past few years. It doubles as a horror, and is pretty gruesome now and then, but gleefully and wittily so, and Natali and his co-writers have come up with a genuinely intriguing premise.
Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play Clive and Elsa, a couple who have made huge but controversial strides in the field of genetic engineering.
They've already succeeded in fusing the DNA of different animals to create new life that might potentially lead to massive scientific advances. Which is good news for the sinister pharmaceutical company that's backing them, but when the pair of slug-like creatures they've created rip each other to pieces at a public unveiling instead of mating like they were supposed to, Clive and Elsa are back to square one and in danger of losing their funding.
But secretly, and against Clive's wishes, Elsa has been playing a dangerous game. She's spliced together human and animal DNA just to prove that it's possible, and she and Clive are both horrified when the resulting creature survives.
Clive wants to kill the bizarre, dome-headed creature that emerges from an incubator and scuttles unnervingly around their legs in the laboratory, but Elsa bonds with it. She names it Dren, and as the child advances rapidly through the stages of its evolution, they form a mother/daughter bond. But the creature can be dangerous (it literally has a sting in its tail), and as it gets bigger and bigger they decide to move it to an abandoned farm.
They still can't decide what to do with Dren, but as she becomes a woman, Clive and Elsa's bond is severely tested.
The effects and design in Splice are impressive, recalling everything from David Cronenberg to Alien and James Whale's Frankenstein, and the film's stylishly gothic look may have something to do with the fact that Guillermo Del Toro is a producer. As the story unfolds we are constantly torn between sympathy for the creature and revulsion, and Splice only loses its way towards the end when the plot takes several steps too far and the action spills over into unintentional comedy.