It sounds like the premise of a thousand monster movies: Brilliant but reckless scientists perform an ill-advised experiment, unleashing into the world a deadly beast. Havoc reigns. People die. Mankind once again pays the price for trying to play God.
The difference, in Vincenzo Natali’s chilling, cerebral “Splice,” is that the premise is handled with unusual restraint.
Rather than embracing the sensational, Natali seems more interested in the human drama that unfolds as two genetic engineers, played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, form a precarious bond with the creature their human-DNA experiment has produced.
And that was the point. Natali, 41, who spent 12 years trying to get the movie made, believes “Splice” is as much a meditation on modern science and dysfunctional relationships as it is a creature feature.
“There’s a hunger out there for this,” he says. “Real genetic-engineering technology and the issues it raises are very much in the public consciousness. And the sexual component of the film is something we’ve seen in science-fiction literature but not in movies — at least not treated in a mature way.”
That sexual component is racy enough that Natali never thought to screen “Splice” for megaproducer Joel Silver, who became the project’s unlikely guardian angel after this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Was the Canadian director worried that Silver would caution him to lighten up the movie’s darkest moments?
“I didn’t know what was going to happen after Warner Bros. picked up the film,” he admits. “They have completely embraced everything that is disturbing and weird about it, and I attribute that to Joel. He’s one of the only producers who knows what he likes and has the power to make it happen.”
Natali doesn’t want to talk about the ending of “Splice,” but he acknowledges that it leaves the door open for a sequel. That wasn’t intentional. But he’ll be back if the story continues.
“My first film ‘Cube’ has two sequels I had nothing to do with,” he says. “I don’t want to say anything disparaging about those movies, but it’s not what I would have done. People assume I was responsible for them. I wasn’t.
“If Warner Bros. wants a ‘Splice’ sequel, I’d want to be involved in shepherding the story along in the direction I would have taken it. After this, I wonder why I was ever an independent. Working with them was incredible. I would definitely do it again.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac
Written by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, Doug Taylor
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Running time 1 hour 44 minutes