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Review: Frankenstein story gets high-tech retelling in 'Splice'

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“Splice”
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali  
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Rated: R

Vincenzo Natali's “Splice” is a direct descendant of Mary Shelley's classic, “Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus.”

The film will never reach the status of that revered work, but it will find a place in the pantheon of the stories that Shelley's original spawned.

In earlier times, “Splice” might have been done like a classic B movie, the kind best seen at a drive-in. Here it sports two A-list actors - Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley - a decent budget, seamless special effects and a striking newcomer to American film, Delphine Chaneac.

Even though Chaneac's character is computer-generated from the waist down and behind some heavy make-up above, she does manage to bring a lot of expression and depth to a very strange, and essentially speechless, character.

Clive and Elsa (Brody and Polley) are a pair of genetic engineers who also are romantically involved. The company they work for is struggling and needs a major breakthrough to keep stockholders happy.

The company's acronym is NERD, which seems a bit much at first, but the name comes into play later on in the story.

Clive and Elsa triumph when they manage to create a new life form. Their pair of slug-like creatures - which they have named Fred and Ginger - don't look like much, but they are a human-engineered, entirely new breed of creatures.

The NERD stockholders' meeting is showcasing the slugs to wow their investors. The hope is that Fred and Ginger will mate and be the Adam and Eve of this new species.

At the meeting, something goes wrong - really wrong. It seems that Ginger has  mutated into a male, and when he and Fred are put in the same terrarium, it becomes all too apparent that two males of this species can be quite aggressive toward each other.

A slug bloodbath ensues and it's quite an ugly sight.

All the while, behind the scenes and going against direct orders from the higher-ups, Clive and Elsa have been doing some research on their own. They have decided to introduce some human DNA into one of their genetic experiments.

After a germination period and an intense “birthing" scene, the new life form appears. It's somewhat humanoid in appearance but has a lower body that is rather kangaroo-ish.

Clive is uneasy about the entire affair but Elsa has a mother instinct (and a secret) that bonds her to the “child.”

The pair discover that the kid has a weird genetic anomaly and is developing at a highly accelerated rate, which seems to be a convenient plot device employed for the film.

Out of necessity, Clive and Elsa have to keep their creation hidden from everyone. Eventually they take her to Elsa's now-abandoned farmstead and lock her in the barn.

The kid grows and develops rapidly, and while she can't talk, Clive and Elsa discover she can spell words using Scrabble tiles. She even spells out NERD, which, when viewed from the opposing perspective, reads as DREN. So that's what they name her.

As Dren develops mentally she also develops physically, and as she does so, she discovers her sexuality. She also discovers she can sprout wings at will.

At this point Chaneac is playing Dren - when younger, Dren was totally computer-generated - and she brings a strong, if decidedly odd, sensuality to the character.

The viewer isn't the only one who notices this. So does Clive. And Dren takes notice of Clive.

The end of the second act features one of the oddest sex scenes ever committed to film. It's not explicit (there is some brief nudity), but it's plenty weird.

Elsa thinks so, too.

But there's a reason Dren and Clive are attracted to each other. It's Elsa's secret mentioned above.

As in their Fred and Ginger experiment, something goes dreadfully wrong with the Dren project.

Act Three deals with this, and by the end, things get pretty twisted.

Like most high-profile movies these days, the film-makers set up a scene that implies an obvious sequel.

A combination of thriller, sci-fi and classic horror, “Splice” won't win any Oscars, but it's a prime example of its genre.

And I look forward to seeing Delphine Chaneac in more films, hopefully without digitally created kangaroo legs.[[In-content Ad]]

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