Genetic research can yield new treatments for deadly diseases and foods that are more nutritious; but tinkering with the building blocks of life could also lead to a much darker, more dangerous outcome. That's what happens when a couple of scientists go just a bit too far in new science fiction film Splice, co-starring Sarah Polley and Oscar-winner Adrien Brody.
Elsa and Clive are experts at splicing together genes of different species for research into new, life-saving medicines; but the line they dare not cross is to splice human genetic material into an experiment. It's a temptation their curious minds can barely resist:
"If we don't use human DNA now someone else will."
"Regulators and politicians would tear us to pieces."
"Millions of people are suffering and dying. What are the moral considerations of that?"
Working in secret, they cross that line. The result is horrifying yet mesmerizing. It has human characteristics, but is so much more …frighteningly more.
"It's a cautionary tale, but in many respects it is quite ambiguous about where it stands on the science," says Vincenzo Natali, co-writer and director of Splice. In the dozen years it has taken him to get the story made into a movie, the exploits of real scientists have come close to what his fictional characters attempt.
"I see Clive and Elsa as being very courageous and well intentioned. They are just young and not fully mature as people," Natali explains. "That's why things go wrong, but the technology unto itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. I worked with real geneticists in the writing of the film and the making of the movie and they loved it. They fully supported it. I don't think they took it that seriously. They could see that this is fantasy and this is not a documentary."
Adrien Brody plays Clive and says the provocative story of Splice crosses lines that will surprise …maybe even shock the audience.
"Definitely with something as relevant in our world as genetic research, there are serious moral and ethical concerns and responsibility that is necessary. This movie kind of throws most of that out of the window," Brody says. "Part of what makes this film so exciting is how close it is linked to our present and very near future. When they made a movie like Frankenstein you never really imagined that happening; [but] you talk about genetically modifying organisms and creating chimeras and managing to integrate different species: that's already happening, but you don't know what is possible and what's to come. Scientific research is progressing at such an alarming rate I think it's impossible to know what ten years from now will hold."
Sarah Polley co-stars as Elsa, whose professional and personal relationship with Clive and their creation affects her scientific judgment.
"Where I think this film goes beyond what I usually expect of films like this is it creates this really in-depth, rich, complex relationship between these people and also this complex relationship that goes into the territory of nightmarish parenting," she says. "I think it goes to strange human places as well as dealing with the creature."
Splice uses unexpected flashes of dark humor to defuse the tension as it draws the audience into ever-more shocking story turns. Laughter - nervous, even inappropriate - is the response writer-director Natali says he was going for.
"There is no question that horror and comedy are comfortable bedfellows," he says. "They mingle quite well, I think, and what it really comes from is the characters. Both Clive and Elsa are charming people. They are lots of fun. They enjoy their work and they have a sense of humor about themselves, so I think that was sort of inherent just in the fact that they have those sort of personalities. At the same time, it is a kind of family drama and there is an inherent humor in a family drama that has a creature as the child."
"She's become unstable."
"This is the disaster everyone warns about: a new species set loose in the world."
Splice features French actress Delphine Chaneac as the voracious creature the scientists name "Dren" (which is "nerd" backwards). The executive producers are Joel Silver and Guillermo del Toro, two filmmakers known for their success in the thriller genre.