In the mid-'90s, a true story about a biological experiment that involved the grafting of a human ear onto a mouse made headlines. It piqued the interest of writer-director Vincenzo Natali (Paris je t'aime, Cube), who began developing a screenplay about the dangers of such genetic engineering.
"It was such a shocking image," says Natali. "It wasn't a genetic experiment, but it looked like one. I thought, Somewhere in this there's a movie."
So over the past decade he toiled over Splice, a new film about a genetic experiment that results in a half-human creature that, like Frankenstein's creation, turns out to be a monster. The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and makes its way into theaters on Friday.
"What's so amazing to me is to see how science has evolved simultaneously with the film," says Natali. "It informed the whole process of the movie. In co-writing the script, which I did with the help of a geneticist, I realized this isn't so far from the truth. We don't need to exaggerate. We [made] a creature we can believe would really exist, because it's quite possible this creature could exist."
Splice's two lead characters, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley), are married genetic engineers who care more about their jobs than each other. They're putting in long hours trying to splice different animals' DNA to create new hybrids. At first, they make a couple of mutant animal creatures they hope will keep their business-oriented boss off their backs. But Clive and Elsa's goals are much loftier than those of the pharmaceutical company they work for: They want to splice human DNA, which their peers consider unethical.
After they create Dren (Delphine Chanéac) out of human and animal DNA, they must keep her away from their prying co-workers. At first they hide Dren in the basement, but after the four-fingered fiend begins to resemble a young girl, they relocate her to the farmhouse where Elsa grew up. Evoking Alien and other old-school sci-fi and horror films (the main characters' names reference Bride of Frankenstein's stars), Splice is downright creepy. (The mutant creature looks so bizarre, you can understand why fright-flick auteur Guillermo Del Toro jumped on board as a producer.) And because the movie doesn't rely too heavily on digital graphics, the monster really does look part human.
As the mutation begins to develop cognitive abilities and human emotions, it becomes an unpredictable third wheel in Clive and Elsa's relationship. When the film shifts to the farmhouse, we learn about Elsa's neglected childhood and why she's so domineering and demanding as an adult. The couple eventually struggle with how to properly "raise" Dren. Splice effectively crosses the threshold once Dren begins to develop a prurient interest in Clive.
The movie works on a number of levels. In the end, it's not just about genetic engineering; it's also about human relationships. "I like to half-jokingly call this my family film," says Natali "That's really what it's about. It's this highly dysfunctional family. This is a relationship movie between creature and creator, where there is this love triangle. It really becomes a psychodrama, and Clive and Elsa's relationship is paramount to that."
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