Movie review: Splice

A DNA-era variation on the Frankenstein theme, Splice is a cut above the usual horror fare.

Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody in Splice.
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Having attracted stars of the calibre of Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, there was always a good chance that Splice would be a cut above the usual horror fare, and so it proves in this tribute to Frankenstein and B-movies such as The Fly. Brody and Polley play the apparently happily married couple Clive and Elsa who work together and play together, but have yet to produce any children. While some couples would get a pet dog to fill this vacuum, the genetic scientists have an altogether more horror-movie-savvy idea after they hit on a formula to make a creature by mixing animal and human DNA. This breaks all the moral and ethical codes of the institution that employs them and so they work in secret and have to use their own DNA to create the new being. It sounds all too familiar, but that is precisely the point, as director Vincenzo Natali sets the scene as a typical B-movie schlock horror, but with better special effects. Brody is extremely good as a geek and nails the part perfectly. Polley also performs well in the fragile Little-Miss-Dependable role that she has made her own over the past few years. So with the clichés coming thick and fast, the challenge for the director is to subvert them so that this is not simply a by-numbers affair. Natali achieves this goal, but it's a qualified success as familiarity with the genre and this story breeds not only a monster, but also contempt. The adage that you should be careful what you wish for comes true when the couple create Dren (Delphine Chaneac), a mutant girl who grows as fast as a beanstalk and does all sorts of clever little tricks such as breathing under water and flying. Of course, Dren doesn't realise that she's supposed to be a secret and when the institution gets wind that strange things are afoot the couple decide to hide Dren at their home. The escape is in keeping with the whole tone - suitably silly - as is the couple's house, which looks as though it has been borrowed from any horror film. It's in the middle of woods, has a barn full of cobwebs and a house that creaks. It couldn't be more secluded if it was on the moon. At first the couple adore their creation, treating her like the child they never had, but then Dren discovers emotions such as jealousy and rage, and decides it's papa she wants to be with. Brody reciprocates and Polley is the woman scorned. The influence of Spider director David Cronenberg on the action is heavy both in style and content. Natali has rightly decided that you can't go far wrong if you imitate one of the masters of horror, and the dialogue comes packed with witty one-liners. Despite the conventional plot it's always fun, even when the action gets increasingly absurd. The French newcomer Chaneac is perfect as the mutant, who looks like a cross between Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Alien and Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.