Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Stoked for that probable genre masterpiece, I, Frankenstein? To tide you over, we’ve lined up a week of similarly… unconventional Frankenstein movies.
“It’s alive,” one mad scientist tells another in Splice, her familiar words a clever callback to the origins of the genre species. Technically speaking, Vincenzo Natali’s 2009 monster movie isn’t based on the work of Mary Shelley. But it certainly shares some DNA with The Modern Prometheus, most plainly in its underlying anxiety: Like just about every official or unofficial Frankenstein story, Splice is as much a parable about parenting as it is a cautionary tale about playing God.
Leaders in the field of genetic engineering, married lab partners Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley)—who share first names with two of the stars of James Whale’s The Bride Of Frankenstein—blend human chromosomes with animal ones, birthing an intelligent new organism in the process. Soon, they’re up late tending to the needs of this screaming, fussy eater; the belated bestowing of a name, “Dren,” confirms Clive’s suspicions that his wife may be developing a maternal attachment to their science experiment. Things get weirder from here, as the three form an unhealthy family unit, Dren growing overnight into a petulant teenager, while her guardians begin to prove how unfit they are to raise a child (even one that can only talk back through birdlike chirps).
Understandably, Splice was sold to audiences as a conventional don’t-fuck-with-the-gene-pool thriller. But while the film occasionally works on that level, thanks to some spectacularly gooey special effects, it’s much weirder than, say, Species. Natali is operating in the mode of fellow Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg, using a bizarre science-fiction conceit to plumb the darker recesses of human psychology. The longer it runs, the more deeply—maybe too deeply—the movie ventures into disturbing psychosexual territory. But if Splice crosses the boundaries of good taste, it does so with the intense curiosity of an overreaching scientist. Like Shelley’s classic fantasia, Natali’s post-millennial ancestor issues a veiled warning to prospective fathers and mothers: Real monsters aren’t born, naturally, or in a test tube. They’re raised.