Review: 'Splice'

From there, below the waist, the creature assumes birdlike features, with the bent legs of an enormous pink chicken. (Björk in her infamous swan costume?)

"Splice" is weird, all right, a scientific nightmare gone way wrong, amounting to an obvious moral lesson about people playing God and creating a monster. Thick strokes of "Frankenstein," David Cronenberg's version of "The Fly," the sickening 1973 B-flick "Sssssss" (go rent that one) and pinches of "Alien" and "Rosemary's Baby" infuse this sci-fi horror story. Yet it never really feels derivative, even if the editorializing - don't do these things! - is hoary and axiomatic.

It begins in a deeply unsettling world of biotechnical experimentation, featuring grotesque, slurping animal-like inventions, hulking tanks of amniotic fluid, scary sonograms and bleeping machinery.

And then …

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play the progressive biotechnicians who want to carry their splicing research further, into the realm of people and animals for the sake of curing human diseases (echoes of the stem cell debate, though none too loud). Their corporate bosses will have none of it. Thus Brody and Polley, who, as a young couple, generate a persuasive, adoring chemistry, take it upon themselves to commit the wild fusion.

The manimal comes out as giant tadpole slug, but its accelerated growth rate quickly morphs it into what looks like an oversized hairless rat, then a bald puppy, then a pathetic demon baby and finally a human child with those crazy bird legs and a long whippy tail. Later we learn this female "thing" has amphibious lungs and a dangerous congenital weapon.

Wow, if I made something like this I would be in constant, sleepless awe and fear, over-the-moon that the experiment worked so frighteningly well. But after the couple rapidly overcome their cold amazement, they slip into a matter-of-fact acceptance, treating her, which they name Dren (that's "nerd" backward, tee-hee), as if she's a regular child, playing with a Barbie doll and demonstrating a precipitous sentience about the world around her.

This is pure dramatic expedience, a way to move the story ahead without all that realism junk. But it feels loose, and "Splice" falls into a drab, if always prickly, conventionalism.

As Dren, French actress Delphine Chanéac gives an emotionally erratic, menacing performance tinged with empathy; she's far from psychologically stable, but what do you expect? Her mimelike performance shouldn't be ignored. Chanéac's alien expressions and lithe physicality are a modern dance of cautious, occasionally aggressive adaptation.

Writer-director Vincenzo Natali (the sci-fi thriller "Cube") sustains an eerie ambiance, but he loses his grip in the climactic scenes, whose comic outrageousness had a preview crowd roaring with what might have been actual laughter or uncomfortable chortles.

Splicing two elements is pretty awful. A third element could have made for something more interesting: a thought-provoking terror that won't let you out of its clutches.

'Splice'

Our grade: B-

Genres: Horror, Science Fiction

Running Time: 107 min

MPAA rating: R

Release Date: June 4, 2010

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