January 29, 2010 / 7:39 AM / 8 years ago

"Splice" a mainstream monster movie

PARK CITY, Utah (Hollywood Reporter) - Mad science meets motherhood in “Splice,” a slice of pulp storytelling in which Dr. Frankenstein is replaced by a pair of lovers too hip for lab coats. An odd choice for Sundance even in the midnight slot, the pic falls well within the genre mainstream and should find more receptive crowds at the multiplex than in Park City.

Shot with a moving camera that is playful but not quite tongue-in-cheek, the film begins with researchers Clive and Elsa, a romantic couple played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, overseeing the birth of a gruesome new life form that looks like a giant tongue. Not content with their hybrid of livestock genes, which was developed in search of new pharma-friendly proteins, Elsa covertly goes one step beyond — slipping some human DNA into the mix to fertilize an egg that is never supposed to become a living creature but, of course, does.

This new, quick-growing little monster, eventually known as Dren, gives the pic’s effects crew room to roam, from its initial phase as an armless little beastie with a wicked stinger in its tail through phases in which it looks human enough that Elsa puts it in a dress and gives it dolls to play with. The effects work is quite strong — no surprise for a fright-flick with Guillermo Del Toro as an exec producer — as is the moody score.

Writer/director Vincenzo Natali takes his tale in some truly icky directions, not quite making it into Cronenbergland but going far enough to elicit solid ‘ewww!’ laughs from the crowd. He could have shot for camp-cult DVD shelf life by pushing the story’s psychological and sexual elements further, but the action direction he goes instead should satisfy the Friday-night crowd without alienating too many viewers.

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