The family tree for the new movie Splice certainly includes older siblings It's Alive (1974, where the combination of contraceptives and fertility drugs produces a homicidal mutant baby) and Species (1995, where a mixture of human and alien DNA produces a homicidal mutant baby). In Splice, a combination of human and animal genes produces... Well, you get the idea.


The genealogy goes even further back, to the mother of all cautionary tales, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus. (And it may go back even further, to the story of Icarus. The moral of the story is always the same: if you play God, you always get burned.)


Clive and Elsa are a pair of modern-day mad scientists, not crazy-mad but PO'ed-mad, at their employer, a pharmaceutical company urging them to abandon their pure research efforts in order to pcome up with a cash cow for the company. They decide to pursue their research clandestinely and produce Dren, a hybrid of human and who-knows-what-other animal genes. Initially they just want to see if they could do it, then they just want to see how long it would survive. And then... things get complicated.


The best thing about Splice is how smart the script is--not brilliant (there are a few big WTF moments) but it's smart in that there are no buffoons--you have a bunch of intelligent people interacting with each other on the same level. Also, there is no exposition--people explaining things to each other that they should already know, for the benefit of the audience, who are largely (presumably)clueless. It totally updates the traditional mad scientist script, making the smart people real people, sort of like how the guys from The Big Bang Theory might turn out if they had to get real jobs. The laboratory trades the 1950s' endless glassware with things boiling and smoking (and you never know what all that was about, were they making tea, micro-brewing, what?) for lots of LCD monitors. And technobabble is nonexistent. (I don't recall the term “DNA” being used even once.) 


What we do get is to concentrate more on the characters than on what they're doing and how they do it. We watch as Clive, Elsa and Dren form a truly post-nuclear family (as in biological nuclear) with all the problems mommies and daddies have―making love and not disturbing the kids, dealing with temper tantrums, getting the kids to eat their dinner. Unlike the usual mad scientist who is the only person who doesn't know things are out of control, Clive and Elsa know they are in over their heads, they're just trying to ride out the storm and hoping for the best. The characters, like their situation, become more complex as the movie progresses. There is no gratuitous violence or gore and a couple of genuine surprises―and, like its siblings, room for a sequel or two.

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