What happens when your child rebels against you? That’s the subject at the emotional core of Splice, an unsettling and skillfully mounted psychodrama that has some of the flavor of 1970s body-horror (mainly Alien and early David Cronenberg) mixed up with a contemporary retelling of the Frankenstein story. The complexity of the question is notched up by the film’s science fiction premise, which has the husband-and-wife team of Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) working in secret to create a new life form that jumbles human DNA in what seems to be a nearly random combination with that of other species.
The American horror movie, so vital in the 1970s, is still enjoying its recent and long-running resurgence in popularity, although the market is glutted with skillful but unambitious exercises in nihilism (The Strangers, the Final Destination series) and dull rehashes of existing horror properties (examples are too numerous to mention, but the recent My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th reboots are basically what I’m talking about). So with the whole genre keeping a safe distance from anything like risk or relevance, it’s a relief to see a movie like Orphan, which is on fucking point from its very first scene. If you’ve seen the trailers and TV spots, you know that Orphan is ostensibly the story of a very bad little girl. But this film is really about Kate Coleman (Vera Farmiga), a very sad Connecticut Mom who was profoundly traumatized by the stillbirth of her third child, and it opens with a harrowing nightmare sequence that begins with Kate going into labor, making her way to the hospital, etc. Events on screen quickly turn gruesome. It’s an effective horror-movie gambit. If the film is this unhinged from the first reel, the audience wonders where else the director might be willing to go before it’s over.