"They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad" wrote Philip Larkin in his famously cynical poem This Be The Verse. "Man hands on misery to man, It deepens like a coastal shelf". Despite its dark viewpoint, Larkin's poem serves as a warning - be sure what you're getting into and that you're more than prepared to deal with the consequences. It's a theme that's amply demonstrated in the Freudian SF horror of Splice.

When two scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) succeed in genetically splicing the DNA of various animals and creating a new life form, the medical company funding the research sees a huge potential for profit. The scientists are keen to push the boundaries of knowledge to the limit by introducing human DNA into the mix and creating a new hybrid creature, despite any ethical or legal implications. However, the medical company see things differently. They believe proteins extracted from the existing creatures will further their products and essentially give them a captive market.

Maintaining the pretext of carrying out the company's orders, the scientists experiment in private and soon "give birth" to the hybrid creature they dreamed of. Keeping their discovery secret, the two raise their baby - named Dren - in private as it rapidly develops into a young, inquisitive, female that resembles the human parts of its DNA more each day. But all is not well. Something bad is happening to the original hybrids and Dren is proving to have a sting in her tail....

Vincenzo Natali's debut feature, Cube, was a taught and innovative SF horror that took a simple concept and turned it into a morally complex labyrinth. This new project is far more ambitious in terms of scope and budget, yet ends up feeling less philosophically deep. Splice, despite what the adverts may have you believe, is much more Hard SF than horror, concerned much more with the "what if?" of genetic mutilation and asking questions regarding scientific and financial motivation. While it tells a story that's always interesting, it's not a tale that's always involving. Despite a number of supporting characters, the film essentially revolves around three characters; the two scientists and Dren. Although some effort has gone into creating a back-story for the human protagonists, they end up feeling so focused on their scientific quest that they are emotionally cold. No amount of shots of them pondering complex theories in their geek's paradise flat can ever cause us to empathise with the couple, and it's only very late on that revelations come to light that give drive and motivation to their earlier choices.

It's left to genetic construct Dren to carry the emotional weight of the film and, admittedly, Delphine Chan´┐Żac gives a superbly quizzical performance as the adult Dren. She conveys her thirst for knowledge, acceptance and growing awareness without a single word, relying entirely on movement and facial expressions that convey a childlike wide-eyed wonder at the world she discovers. Her physical mannerisms are superb, with animalistic tics and shudders coupled with a sudden ferocity when frightened that make her constantly fascinating to watch. Special mention also has to go to the effects work; as Dren develops from what initially looks something like the baby from Eraserhead into a spring-heeled adult with a barbed tail the visuals are always original and startling. Despite a couple of duff shots, it's easy to believe that this creature was on set as seen on the screen.

As mentioned before, the trailers for this film are somewhat misleading. Anyone going to see this expecting a genetic "monster on the loose" movie a bit like Species may find themselves fidgeting with their popcorn. This is a slow paced examination of science taking the law into its own hands in the face of commercial interference. There may be occasional brief flashes of ick and gore as the plot develops, but it's only in the finale as things suddenly turn all Jeepers Creepers that Splice kicks into the horror trappings the marketing campaign promises.

To be fair, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Natali's movie attempts to be something different from most of the special effects extravaganzas put up on the big screen and it should be applauded for that. This feels much more like Greg Egan than, say, Simon Clark. It's not everyone's cup of a good source of Brownian motion, but it's certainly refreshing to see something like this given more than a micro budget. The biggest problem is that, even before you go, you kind of know the plotline. You know from the start the scientists will succeed, and you know that by the end everything will go tits up in some way or another. It does remove some of the sense of mystery from proceedings but the film takes enough wild swerves to jolt the familiarity away from time to time.

And jolt it does. Keeping the review out of spoiler city, revelations and actions in the second half of the movie have enormously unusual implications - especially in a movie being marketed so much to the mainstream. There's a distinctly Freudian turn of events that would have had my film-studies tutors creaming their brown nylon slacks when I was at university. You could write an essay on Dren's tail alone, and that's just the tip of the phallic iceberg. The relationship between creature and her scientist creators / parents grows ever more complex, with motivations and feelings blurring as the plot slithers the characters towards a dangerous precipice. One the tipping point is reached, in a quite unbelievable scene that will have audiences gasping at the audacious implications, things turn head-over-heels and hurtle towards a conclusion filled with psychoanalytical symbolism and metaphor. It's fried gold for anyone with even the remotest interest in Freudian film theory, and will most likely provoke hoots of astonishment from everyone else.

I'm kind of frustrated by this film because I really liked so much about it, but found it missed the target so often. Due to the frequent emotional distancing of the lead characters, it's an experience I admire rather than one I enjoyed. Splice is an intelligent film that tries to say lots and ends up blurting out a confused message that mixes the dangers of commercialising science with the risks involved in science for science sake. The conclusion almost literally begs scientists to be aware of the risks and responsibilities of the discoveries they give birth to. Does the risk outweigh the advancement of human achievement? In the words of Larkin "Get out as early as you can, And don't have any kids yourself".

Review by Paul Bird

Released by Optimum Releasing