Two moments before the creepiest sex scene we’re likely to watch this summer, our protagonists Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) have what seems like a prosaic conversation. He wants babies; she doesn’t. After arguing through the usual objections—ruined figure, awesome responsibilities—and considering they’ve just created a monstrous hybrid creature who’s “napping” in an adjoining room, he turns to her and asks, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” In its funny, horrifying, and riveting 105 minutes, Splice amply answers this seemingly offhand question.
Like most good horror movies, this film taps into big metaphors and myths. The characters’ names, for instance, are meant to recall James Whale’s Frankenstein films—which are based on Prometheus’s plight. Adam and Eve also come to mind, and, if you’re looking close, you’ll catch allusions to cheesier archetypes like the Jeepers Creepers and X-Men movies. In other words, there are enough references here to keep film school grads employed for a decade.
But truly great horror films don’t just allude; they get under our skins by exploiting real anxieties—this film is all about the bottomless terrors of childbearing. Every worst thing you can imagine happens—incest, abuse, very bad child-discipline problems and practices. There’s even advice on why we shouldn’t buy kids pets, all explored in ways that will stick with you for a few clammy days after watching them onscreen.
What’s really great about this complex script is its grown-up attitude toward character and plot ambiguities. We get lots of info and motivation, but we get a lot of teasing hints, too. We don’t know, for instance, when Clive changes his mind about their little mutant, Dren, or why he takes his affection so far. We know that Elsa had a tortured relationship with her mother, but what prompts her to set up a real torture chamber?
It’s a rich and delightful movie arriving in the middle of a cinematic drought. It’s not conventionally scary—not much comes jumping out at you—but disturbing images might pop up later. You should see it. After all: What’s the worst thing that could happen?