In Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays a prima ballerina with problems. She’s just been entrusted with a role she has no idea how to play. She lives with her mother, a bitter and broken-down control freak who comes on like Piper Laurie in Carrie. She’s scorned by her role model. She sees visions of her doppelgänger in mirrors, in construction walkways, and even in the bathroom. It’s possible that she’s growing wings. She may have an imaginary friend. She may be a virgin. She needs to get laid.
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.
Despite its generally warm critical reception from Internet-based horror aficionados — and a chilling set-up that delivers its gross-outs with a helping of wit — Grace is a frustratingly dry entry in that subcategory of the genre that deals with the bearing of children. The subject has been mined in movies like Rosemary’s Baby, It’s Alive, and The Brood, and it’s been deconstructed to the point of abstraction — think “body horror,” as in the first Alien film. Director Paul Solet tries to take the concept back to square one, adopting a sober approach to the slowly paced story of a baby who’s not quite right and the mother who loves her.