I wonder what Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein would have been like if rewritten as a modern-day bio-sci-fi horror movie. Would Frankenstein fear the monster? adopt the monster? teach it to spell? dress it up? have sex with it? Splice is only a thematic descendant of that Victorian gothic novel, but I guess the issue of science allowing humanity to play God is more real than ever — and Splice is eager to explore that (while being a somewhat entertaining thriller at the same time). Sarah Polley plays Elsa Kast, a biochemistry genius, and a wiz at creating genetically-engineering life. With her boyfriend and lab partner, Clive Nicoli (played by Adrien Brody), she not only creates a pair of giant slugs that possess all kinds of miraculous genes capable of producing pharmaceutically-useful chemicals, but when she starts tampering with human DNA (much to her bosses’ dismay), the two of them create a wholly new kind of life form. At first the question appears to be, “Is this creature a monster?”, but as it starts to grow rapidly (and they name it “Dren”), they start to wonder how intelligent it is, and begin to care for it as a child. (What could go wrong with that, right?)
Part of this movie is about the relationship between Clive and Elsa, and the problems they have with their corporate bosses. There’s a heavy overtone of the “soulless, unscrupulous corporation” to this movie, where the biotech companies seem eager to push risky experiments forward at any cost. However, Elsa and Clive themselves are also scientific mavericks, wanting to prove their own ideas, arrogantly believing themselves in control of the genetic forces they are tampering with. As Dren quickly grows up and they start to treat her like a child, the movie takes a more dramatic turn, making it more like an adoption story where the three characters cope with becoming a family. To that end, the script is pretty well-written and explores some interesting (and some bizarre) situations. However, eventually everything escalates and not only does Dren continue to become something beautiful and scary, other things happen which affect the relationships between the characters. Events start to spin into the horror domain. Disappointingly, once that happened, I found the movie to be too derivative of a B-movie.
The best thing in the movie was the character of Dren. Though she never actually speaks, it was good that they got actual actresses to play her (with the help of makeup and CGI I’m sure, to add her wings, fins, animal legs, weird eyes, etc.). She became much more a real character than a special-effects creation. I would have much preferred if the movie kept its pace and explored some of the more mundane ramifications of this kind of science — i.e. what does such a creation mean to humanity? — rather than going off the deep end like it does. I wish they didn’t just focus on how things could go horribly wrong. From Frankenstein on down, we’ve seen that story many times before. Nevertheless, I give credit to Splice for its efforts at making an interesting and thought-provoking movie about the controversial topic of genetic experimentation. I just wish that it took the issue more seriously. (4 out of 5)