Who's In It: Sarah Polley, Adrien Brody, Delphine Chanéac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett
The Basics: Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are a rock star scientist couple famous for making fleshy mutant animal hybrids in their high-tech Canadian laboratory. Clive wants to start a family, but the career-driven Elsa is so not ready to be a mother -- until the two rebellious scientists decide to bend the rules of science by creating a half-human, half-animal creature they name Dren. As Dren grows into a cute little creature-child, Elsa's maternal instincts kick in and she forms a close bond with her hyper intelligent part-human daughter even as Clive says what we're all thinking: for God's sake, kill the thing before everything spins out of control! But Mama Elsa wins, and little Dren grows up into a freakishly alluring bald woman (Delphine Chanéac ) with hoof legs, wings, a poison spike tail, and a major Oedipal crush on Daddy Clive. And it only gets crazier from there on out, making Splice a WTF?? sci-fi horror must-see of the year second only to The Human Centipede.
What's The Deal: With Splice, Canadian director Vincenzo Natali does for biology what he did for mathematics in 1997's Cube (and for falling in love with vampires in Paris Je T'aime), turning a tale about nerdy heroes into a cautionary nightmare that manages to raise a few intriguing philosophical questions before running almost completely off the rails in a last act filled with sex, violence, and worst of all, bad parenting. Before Splice gets to its ridiculous point of no return (SPOILER ALERT: Is it wrong to find yourself attracted to a creature if you made it in a lab?) it builds on an engaging domestic battle of wills between Brody's brooding punk rock-listening Clive and his headstrong mate Elsa, a fascinatingly written character whose professional drive and willingness to break the rules may have more to do with her family history of psychiatric problems than her devotion to pure scientific discovery. If you can forgive Splice its handful of inane moves (and if you delight in the insane things that transpire between the three main characters, you sicko) this might become one of your guiltiest pleasures of 2010.
On The Other Hand: I hate it when people in horror movies make stupid decisions that result in bad things happening, and these allegedly brilliant persons make some of the dumbest choices in horror movie history. Oh, you think your creepy animal daughter accidentally broke free and ate a rabbit because she temporarily forgot she was human? Okay. What's that? You're being attacked by a vicious flying creature in the forest and you want to stop to fish out the flashlight you dropped in a scary, dark pond? Sigh. The biggest problem with Splice isn't that it dares to push boundaries; it's that once it does, its characters behave with incredible stupidity just to move the plot along to its horrific conclusion.
On The Chick And The Creature Effects That Make Dren: Model-actress Delphine Chanéac is French, which perhaps explains why at times she plays the teenage Dren like a tortured mime, able to communicate only through clicks, whistles, and anguished/terrified/sultry facial expressions. With the help of Chanéac's odd physical movements -- birdlike head movements, an equine cadence, animalistic grace -- and mostly terrific CG and practical effects, Natali creates a believable Dren so ethereally beautiful and vulnerable you almost understand how Elsa and Clive could have fallen for her.
The Final Verdict: Flawed though it is, Splice is a must-see for sci-fi and horror nuts, even if you walk away like I did, shaking your head at Natali and how he threw away a perfectly compelling first two acts in favor of the big "Oh no they didn't" ending. Fans of intelligent science fiction may be captivated -- then sorely disappointed -- by movie's end, but you've got to give Natali credit for giving us something fresh in the body-horror genre that manages to be shocking in a way we've not quite seen before.