"Dren," the genetically-engineered spawn of Splice, is a remarkably versatile creature, constantly evolving to suit the ambitions of director Vincenzo Natali, whose provocative sci-fi thriller integrates elements of everything from Frankenstein and The Fly to Lolita and Oedipus Rex into one Costco-sized variety pack of disturbing images and concepts. Whatever makes you squirm, be it physical or metaphysical, you can bet Splice has something for you.
The film is set primarily in the antiseptic, dull-green laboratory of the mad-scientist couple Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), skilled geneticists who probably met while ditching bioethics class at grad school. In the service of a suitably menacing French pharmaceutical firm, they gleefully toil at the forefront of morally dubious research, combining the DNA of different creatures to create appalling new life forms from which their employer intends to extract the next generation of lucrative medications.
The fun abruptly stops for Clive and Elsa, however, when their corporate overseers decide to halt the life-creating stage of their research and shift to the more tedious profit-extracting stage. But their God complexes compel them to disobey the decree, and they continue their experiments illicitly, eventually giving "birth" to Dren, a test-tube Frankenstein's monster containing bits of genetic code from virtually every species in the animal kingdom -- including good old homo sapiens.
At first a squealing, revolting tub of goo, Dren grows rapidly, developing humanoid features that cause Clive and Elsa to view her (it's a female) less as a science experiment and more as a pet, and then less as a pet and more as a daughter, and finally less as a daughter and more as disturbingly hot daughter.
A child can challenge the best of relationships, especially when the child is an unholy devil-spawn, and Dren brings out the worst in Clive and Elsa, neither of whom were the most well-adjusted folk to begin with. Soon a kind of creepy love triangle develops between the three, and it's at this point that the tone of Splice crosses the line from merely provocative and unsettling to "Holy sh*t, what the f**k was that?!?" disturbing.
Splice is clearly tailored to appeal to a certain audience -- specifically, those who delight in being made to squirm for the better part of two hours -- and in that sense it more than succeeds. Every detail of the film is crafted to elicit the maximum amount of discomfort, from the dreary hues of its color palette to its stomach-churning sound design, which emphasizes every cringeworthy squeal and squish and gurgle. But Splice is more cerebral than your typical torture-porn trash, and its brand of horror is adept at stimulating more than just the gag reflex.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.