Splice: Bringing Up Frankenstein's Baby

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Warner Bros.

A scene from Splice

There is a special kind of exhilaration that comes from watching smart
 scientists do really dumb things. In the slyly cheesy Splice, a 
pair of married scientists blithely tromp through nature's domain, 
genetically engineering
 a human hybrid with the potential to be Frankenstein's Monster crossed with 
Rosemary's Baby. 
The movie is ridiculously over the top, inelegant and so defiantly 
that it works, reminding you how fun gore and creatures that go bump 
 grind) in the night can be. It's a sci-fi horror film, but no actual 
 has made me laugh as much this year as Splice

Clive (Adrien Brody, Oscar winner — just in case you forgot) and 
(Sarah Polley, Oscar nominee) are the hot young stars of creepy 
 research. They've spliced together various genes — some porcine — and 
grown a 
pair of hideous beasts called Fred and Ginger, which look like what 
happen if an elephant foot and a freestanding penis could reproduce.

This breakthrough lands Clive and Elsa — presumably writer-director 
Natali is deliberately referencing Elsa Lanchester and Colin Clive, 
of The Bride of Frankenstein — on the cover of Wired magazine 
and earns 
them the gratitude of some nefarious pharmaceutical corporation with 
 to harvest Fred and Ginger's "proteins." Don't sweat the details of 
the weird
 science; the movie certainly doesn't. I just ignored Clive and 
Elsa's lab 
talk, which tended toward statements like "It must be rogue 
elements — junk
 genes pushing through," and concentrated on what delicious horror 
would come 
out of the incubator next.

Because, obviously, once you've made matching sets of elephant hoof–
babies, you'll want to move right to combining human and pig genes 
 perhaps a soupçon of bald eagle. And you certainly will want to do 
this all 
secretly, without telling your boss Barlow (David Hewlett) or, in 
 case, his dopey brother–lab assistant Gavin (Brandon McGibbon). 
Clive, it 
must be said, is sensible enough to want to kill the rapidly growing 
 that results, but Elsa insists they keep this half-plucked chicken 
with a 
human(ish) head alive. She christens it Dren (nerd spelled 
backward), puts 
it in dresses and introduces it to the evil pleasures of high-
fructose corn 

Elsa is one of those women who don't want to have babies — it would
 overcrowd their apartment, etc. — which in the emotional parlance of 
mainstream moviedom makes her ripe for punishment. It gives us 
leeway not to 
worry too much about her fate if and when Dren should develop, say, 
and a stinger. But for a reluctant novice, Elsa takes to parenting 
with the 
kind of obnoxious zeal recognizable to anyone who has ever been in a 
new-mothers group. And because Dren ages rapidly, we're able to watch 
cycle through all the stages of parenthood, including the ugly teen 

The same goes for Clive, who starts out jealous of the attention 
 gives Dren. ("You're treating her like a pet," he protests.) Early 
on, Clive
 tries to drown Dren during a cold bath to counter a mysterious fever. 
Instead, he revives her. His expression — Oh, sure, I meant to do 
that — is priceless. It's no wonder Dren regards Clive with the cowering
 hostility of an unwanted animal. But soon enough, Clive is playing 
good cop to Elsa's bad-mother cop, introducing to the film all the dramatic possibilities of an Electra complex and allowing Natali to paint a gleeful send-up of modern parenting.

It's a treat to have actors of Brody's and Polley's caliber in what is 
essentially a B movie. Most members of the supporting cast are amateurish 
and awful. 
The exception is Delphine Chaneac, who plays the postadolescent 
Dren. The
 computer-generated imagery that gives her various odd bits, 
including faun 
legs, is seamless, resulting in a magnificent creature, and 
Chaneac's performance 
is spookily beautiful and witty.

The movie has a fascinating relationship with predictability. Of 
course this 
happy family will have to move to an abandoned home in the country. And
 when they do, we're pleased on multiple levels. There's the 
recognition that
 Natali is sending up the genre, parodying it even, but also the 
 of the suspense to come. You think, Look at these dopes: Are they 
going to 
get what they deserve or what?

But sometimes that predictability is merely predictable. By the time 
performs a "surgery" that's meant to represent a mother's darkest, 
 desperate urges to control a wild teen, my interest in her as a character had 
waned. The film's conclusion feels inevitable, including a last 
reveal that 
doesn't surprise. But rather than dwell on it, I think fondly back 
to the
 scene when Clive and Elsa, panicked by Dren's racing off into the darkness on her
 first night in the country, come upon their "daughter" in the woods. 
turns to them, smiling sheepishly through bloody rabbit guts. Like 
she's hilarious, naughty and excitingly creepy.