Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are two rebellious young biochemical engineers – and we know they’re rebellious because they wear T-shirts in place of lab coats, listen to electronica and jazz, and bomb around town in an old AMC Gremlin – who work for a major, and quite possibly evil, pharmaceutical lab.
Their goal: to hybridize the DNA of various animals to come up with never-before-seen creatures who will be a fountain of new proteins and compounds that the lab can patent.
Elsa thinks it would be super cool to throw some human DNA into the mix. Whoops, bad idea.
That’s the setup for “Splice,” an engrossing, if flawed, techno thriller that never quite goes where it might be expected, which is what makes it such a pleasant surprise. Instead of just being a retread of the “Alien,” monster-on-the-loose scenario, the story offers something more complicated.
The result of Elsa’s brainstorm, whom they name Dren (long story), possesses animal and human characteristics, forcing Clive and Elsa into an emotional place where issues of man and nature, life and death, creation and control – things that didn’t seem to matter to them before in their yuppie-rific lives – are suddenly center stage.
Kept by the couple in one of the lab’s secret rooms, Dren (an amazing CGI effect as a youngster) ages at an accelerated rate as they bond with her, partly out of their own neediness for what’s missing in their lives.
They know that if she’s ever discovered by the outside world, she’ll either be killed or used as a guinea pig. At the same time, they come to the realization that, as she takes on more human sensibilities, they shouldn’t be keeping her as a prisoner against her will, either.
Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali – who made a splash in the late 90s with “Cube,” a low-budget yet chilling slice of sci-fi – “Splice” percolates with the big issues of the day without feeling forced and heavy-handed. At its best, it’s “Frankenstein” for the Internet age.
So it’s somewhat disappointing that, in the final act, and spurred by an “oh no, they didn’t!” plot twist that might repulse some viewers and collapse others into laughter, “Splice” follows more of a standard-issue chase scenario, setting up things quite nicely for a sequel.
Still, for all of its flaws, “Splice” – like “Moon” and “District 9” last year – is something unexpected. It’s a summer movie with more on its mind than merely blowing stuff up.
Maybe these scientists aren’t so mad after all.