Given its heady ethical and philosophical ramifications, as well as the opportunity it affords for gruesome special effects, genetic engineering has played a surprisingly small role in the contemporary sci-fi/horror genre, at least when it comes to human DNA. (The last really good example was David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly in 1986, and that fusion was an accident: “My teleporter turned into a gene-splicer.”) Splice, the latest effort from twisted Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Cypher), makes a sturdy, queasily entertaining go at rectifying that omission. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play Clive and Elsa (named after two key actors in the ’30s Frankenstein movies), a pair of romantically involved geneticists who’ve made great strides in the field by combining the DNA of radically different organisms. Elsa has no interest in combining her personal DNA with Clive’s in order to create a baby, but in the pursuit of scientific glory, she manages to cook up a quasi-human female thingamabob with wide-set eyes, powerful kangaroo legs and (most ominously) a tail ending in a giant stinger. Clive sensibly wants to perform a retroactive abortion. Elsa names it Dren and goes all mommy.
Despite a degree of surface-level ludicrousness—Clive and Elsa dress more like runway models than scientists, and Dren, in the not-so-grand tradition of Species, speedily develops from a blobby plucked chicken into a super-hot if slightly freaky chick—Splice works reasonably well both as an icky-funny horror movie and as an absurdist look at the perils of parenting; essentially, it’s a more mainstream (and less haunting) tech-nerd version of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. (Note that “Dren” is “nerd” spelled backward.) Which makes it all the more disappointing that Natali and his co-writers, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Douglas Taylor, come up with no better exit strategy than a generic action climax—slap an exoskeleton on Dren and you could be watching the final reel of Iron Man 2. All the same, any hint of creativity in this genre should be encouraged, and Natali is an underrated talent (check out Cypher on video; it’s nutty fun) who deserves more attention from connoisseurs of the bizarre and the grotesque.