I saw Vincenzo Natali’s film Splice (2009) just last night. It’s an over the top and slightly silly pseudo-scientific affair that plays on a growing public awareness of the potential possibilities of genetic engineering. It’s good, in some places.

The picture is at its most engaging when Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) must struggle with the question of just how human Dren (Delphine Chanéac) could become. The early scenes, in which the two try to create their human-animal hybrid, are forgettable. The corporate aspect, Joan Chorot’s (Simona Maicanescu) search for the ‘magic protein’, feels like background noise. In the final scene, when Joan presses Elsa to continue with the experiment (not to give any plot lines away), before offering a mere gesture of compassion with a rub on the shoulder, she seems as two-dimensional as Aaron in Titus Andronicus.

Even the two slug-like creatures, the experiments that precede Dren, though perhaps quite sweet in their own way, are not more than odd. Their need to ‘imprint’ is as unconvincing as the Na’vi’s ‘connections’ in Avatar (2009): the interweaving of little tentacles, each slotting into their correct place, is reminiscent of a USB flash drive and suggests that both directors may have drawn inspiration from their computers, saying to themselves, ‘that could be suitably sci-fi, though I’ll need to make it more organic’.

At it’s best, though, the film is emotionally demanding and morally challenging. It is certainly strange to witness Elsa treat a young Dren as if she were her own child. Later, though, we learn that she uses her own DNA to create the creature. We’re made to ask two questions: in what sense is Dren human and to what extent is she Elsa’s offspring? I certainly began by treating Dren as a creature, as something else, but it is indicative of the skill of the picture that in a climactic scene, when Elsa, driven by anger and fear, cooly operates on Dren, I felt quite revolted. Elsa says into her dictaphone: ‘Cosmetically “human” affectations should be eliminated where possible’; it has become ‘necessary to remove her […] stinger.’ When Elsa begins to cut Dren’s dress, it feels as degrading and as dangerous as a rape.