David Cronenberg would be quite amused. Director Vinzenzo Natali's Splice is thick with body-horror, just enough thought to stimulate scientific discussion, and a proud product of Canada.
The first 20 minutes of the film are actually really great. Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley play a married couple of genetic scientists, or "splicers", as they call themselves. We open on the birth of their latest creation, a football-sized sea urchin called Ginger, which is a hybrid of many different fauna and produces some kind of drug that stops cancer, or something - its never really explained in depth. Riding high in the success of Ginger, the splicers set their sights on combining human DNA with that of animals to create an even more revolutionary creature. Forbidden from doing so by their financial backers, they go about it anyway, in secret.
These early scenes, mostly set in the splicers' advanced but believable laboratory, are extremely well done in every aspect. The writing is taut and intelligent, the acting is accessible, and the atmosphere that Natali establishes is creepingly exhilirating.
Without revealing too much, it can be said that the splicers create a human-animal hybrid the likes of which neither of them imagined. The film starts down a strange path as the creature rapidly matures and the scientists raise it as the child they never had. Things become more bizarre still when the hybrid, called Dren, reaches adulthood, and exhibits enough of a human femininity to fill Brody's character with deviant, weirdly incestuous thoughts.
From this point, Splice takes a trip to camp and never returns, which is a shame, given the great promise of its first act. It feel very much like the writers (Natali and Antoinette Terry Bryant) put all their thought into the concept and beginning of the film, but then simply fell back on cliches when it came time to cobble together an ending. It begins as a film, but ends merely as a flick.
Aside from the initial act, the film's other main attraction is the realization of Dren. Brought to life with a seamless mix of CGI, practical effects and human acting, Dren is an original and impressive creation. She is played with acrobatic aplomb and heartbreaking depth by French-Canadian actress Delphine Cheneac, who is the only thing that saves the film from becoming completely intorrerable when things go south and even Brody's and Polley's performances turn to ham.
Despite a weak ending and the squandered potential therein, Splice is a thoughtful and exciting sci-fi horror outing packed with imagery that really sticks to the side of your skull.