Now, that’s not to say the film is all somber contemplation of the themes on which it touches. Yes, the two lead scientists in the story violate ethics and the law, and end up creating a monster daughter, but the company they work for is Nucleic Exchange Research Development. Look again at those initials: N.E.R.D.
Clive (Adrien Brody, “Fantastic Mr. Fox“) and Elsa (Sarah Polley, TV’s “John Adams“) — as in Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester, the two stars of “The Bride of Frankenstein” who weren’t Boris Karloff — splice together DNA of different animal species in an attempt to develop a super-protein that will cure everything from diabetes to diaper rash. We don’t see them mixing in snake oil, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t tried it. Company CEO Joan Chorot (French actress Simona Maicanescu) pays lip service to humanitarianism, blah blah blah, but her real concern is profits, and she puts pressure on her staff to deliver.
Just to see what will happen, Elsa adds some human female DNA to the formula, and the resultant creature looks like something from a Guillermo del Toro movie. Which shouldn’t surprise us, as del Toro is one of this film’s executive producers.
But as it ages, which it does at an accelerated rate, the thing begins to look more and more like a young woman from the waist up (Delphine Chanéac, “The Pink Panther“). Elsa names her Dren — spell it backward — and soon, that whole Electra complex thing starts up and worsens when Clive becomes attracted to his test-tube daughter. As part of the civilizing process, Elsa gives Dren her old Barbie and soon, the part-human begins comparing her appearance to that of the perfect doll, just like every other young woman in America.
Clive and Elsa really lose control when something unexpected occurs with an earlier experiment and we start wondering if the same thing could happen to Dren.
The film is essentially a three-way character study, but strong, convincing support is supplied by Brandon McGibbon (“Saw V“) as Clive’s brother, and David Hewlett (TV’s “Stargate: Atlantis“) as the lab manager.
Technically, the film goes well beyond its B-monster-movie roots. The production design by Todd Cherniawsky (the “Ginger Snaps” trilogy) gives us a lab and an apartment that look they’re inhabited not by generic scientists, but by these two in particular. Cyrille Aufort’s modernist score is reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s work on “Psycho,” while the script by director Vincenzo Natali (“Cube“), Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor demands post-viewing contemplation.
Finally, there seems to be disagreement as to whether the film is a pure horror picture or a black-comedy variation on mad-scientist themes. The main characters’ names do reference “The Bride of Frankenstein.” Go back and watch that classic again, then make up your own mind. —Doug Bentin