SpliceThis Canadian production is the most ambitious film to date by Canada’s highly idiosyncratic Vincenzo Natali. It suffers from a somewhat haphazard narrative but was still one of most memorable films of 2010.

SPLICE is the fourth feature directed by Vincenzo Natali, who previously helmed the low budgeters CUBE (1997), CYPHER (2002) and NOTHING (2003). SPLICE is among the few Natali films to feature actual (C-list) movie stars, in the form of Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley (with Natali regular David Hewitt in a supporting role), and also some big name producers: Guillermo del Toro, Joel Silver and Don Murphy.

SPLICE premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was purchased by Warner Bros in one of the festival’s most high profile pick-ups. Its theatrical release in the Spring of ‘10 was highly anticipated, garnering generally positive reviews, yet for whatever reason the film did very little business.

Clive and Elsa are genetic engineers looking to create a human-animal hybrid by splicing together various DNA strands. When the corporation funding them nixes this experiment, Clive and Elsa go about creating the creature on their own. They wind up with a mass of insectoid slime that breaks open to reveal an armless creature with long legs and a spiked tail, which ages extraordinarily fast. Figuring the critter will die soon, Elsa suggests keeping it around until then.

Dren (Nerd spelled backwards), as the thing is christened, quickly develops arms and grows into a bald half girl-half bird creature that brings out all of Elsa’s motherly instincts. But then Dren begins mutating, evincing amphibious lungs and even sprouting wings.

Elsa and Clive decide to relocate Dren to an abandoned farmhouse owned by Elsa’s deceased mother. There Dren grows increasingly bored and difficult to control. She also begins to develop sexually, and seduces Clive.

This only deepens the already-strained relationship between Dren and Elsa, who takes some drastic steps to correct Dren’s behavioral problems. But then Dren unexpectedly falls sick and dies—yet is she truly dead or does her current state herald a much scarier final mutation?

Vincenzo Natali does a good job directing this film, which is to say he stays out of the way of his partially authored script and the work of his special effects technicians. The latter have created a marvelously lifelike creature in Dren, powerfully portrayed by actress Delphine Chaneac with heavy prosthetic makeup and digital enhancement. The non special effect-enhanced performers Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley aren’t bad either, although their roles are largely reactive, and secondary to Chaneac’s.

Regarding SPLICE’S script, it evinces, in common with Natali’s other films, a near-compulsive determination to explore its concept’s every conceivable permutation. The possibilities of mutation, inter-species carnality and gender change on the part of Dren are all faced up to in admirably unflinching fashion. Of course, this makes for an overstuffed and oft-disjointed narrative whose protagonists have a tendency to change their behavior and personalities based on the dictates of the ever-mutating plot.

A traditional horror movie this isn’t. It is, however, absorbing, curiously touching and repellant, with enough blood and slime to fill three David Cronenberg movies.

Vital Statistics

Warner Bros. Pictures/Dark Castle Entertainment

Director: Vincenzo Natali
Producer: Steven Hoban
Screenplay: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor
Cinematography: Tetsuo Nagata
Editing: Michele Conroy
Cast: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, Simona Maicanescu, David Hewlett, Abigail Chu