Movie review: ‘Splice’

“Splice” is a hybrid that works. It’s a smart, slickly paced, well-acted science-fiction cautionary tale-horror movie-psychological drama. In its mix are ethical quandaries in biotechnology, nature versus nurture and an adorable-sexy-disturbing monster. So there’s that. But it wins best in show by focusing on one of the weirder relationship triangles in recent memory.

Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive ( Adrien Brody) are brilliant scientists creating genetically modified organisms to harvest proteins that might cure diseases. Their crowning achievement is a pair of multi-animal creations that resemble massive, fleshy worms. When they realize they’re about to lose the chance to pursue their ultimate goal — a human-animal hybrid ( George W. Bush was right!) whose proteins could defeat cancer and other scourges — they rush to finish their work. As Clive says, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

As one might imagine, the worst is more than a Petri dish of nonviable goo. The resulting creation, Dren, resembles a rabbit-cat-human infant at first (the visual effects are top notch), something downright huggable. They start off so cute….

The clever script and grounded performances — especially by Polley — convincingly sell the “good idea at the time” hubris of geniuses making horrible decisions. Polley’s Elsa is a multilayered person balancing an aversion to motherhood with deep-seated maternal yearnings.

Perhaps the film’s most interesting and nerve-jangling component is the evolving dynamic among the childless couple and their experiment-pet-baby-monster. The authenticity of that triangle is sure to generate some of the most uncomfortable laughter you’ll hear at a movie this year.

The film avoids cliché and has several effective reveals and genuinely funny moments, including one of the least-encouraging shareholder meetings ever. As the boss who is very worried, David Hewlett is hilariously unhappy. Delphine Chanéac, who plays Dren for most of the film, marries the behaviors of several animals with the emerging consciousness of a human being.

“Splice” has echoes of “Aliens” and “Frankenstein,” but whatever components the film is sewn together from, it feels original. That’s largely because of the seriousness with which the characters and their qualms are explored. The film earns its freakiness: Director Vincenzo Natali and company have wisely realized that if situations and conflicts are believable first and foremost, the experience will be far more immersive — and intense — than the usual jumping-out-of-cupboards nonsense.