Ahhh, how long has it been since you've seen a current horror film that really engaged your mind as well as your nerves? Not since The Descent, as far as I can remember, and it turns out this film has even more going on in the brains department. It's also genuinely creepy and funny, although truth be told, not as scary as some others. But who cares?
We begin with clever little animal skeletons that form into logos. After the credits, the camera literally is born, coming out through the birth canal to greet our two geneticists, Clive and Elsa [named after two actors from Bride of Frankenstein]. They have created these two living lumps of flesh from the DNA of various other animals, for the purpose of deriving new pharmaceuticals from them. They are big shot scientists, featured on the cover of Wired, and they want to take the next step and start using human DNA. But no--they get shut down in order to process the new products they've just made. In spite, Elsa makes a special splice of human and animal DNA and throws it in an incubator.
That night they talk about having a baby, and Elsa says she doesn't want to go through childbirth. In a matter of days their creation is ready to be born, and looks like gigantic sperm. In a few days it dies, but turns out it has spawned a cute little thing that's like a cross between a bunny and a naked mole rat. Elsa begins getting attached to it and treating it like a child almost immediately. Clive doesn't like the whole thing one bit, but is basically a giant wuss, while Elsa is domineering and emotionally manipulative. Soon Elsa is taking the protection off of Dren's [that's what they name her] poison-tipped tail, and treating her like her own special child. When someone else at the lab sees, they take her out and hide her in Elsa's mother's farm. Not long after this it is noted that Clive and Elsa haven't done the deed in quite some time.
Now if you want to see this movie, which you should, I would advise you to skip the spoilers until you do. Especially because there's lots of crazy insane sexual stuff coming up, and it might be fun to be taken by surprise.
SPOILERS > > >
So they come to show the first two creatures to investors, when suddenly the creatures fight each other to [literal] bloody pulp! THAT was a surprise, and it gets a big shocked laugh when the whole front row gets spattered in blood. Uh-oh, funding for their projects is a thing of the past, unless they can figure out what went wrong. You see, it would seem that after the two beasties had sex, one of them switched sexes, and the female became male. So it's back to work for Clive and Elsa--but they have a big problem at home to worry about.
Dren is now a full-grown young woman, and wants to go outside. She's also developed an appetite for flesh, which Elsa sees and yet denies. Polley does an excellent job of portraying Elsa as an extremely damaged woman with a large capacity for self-delusion, while still remaining understandable and human. She also starts morphing into her own difficult mother, taking away the cat Dren has adopted, trying to bond while teaching Dren how to apply makeup[!], and jealous over finding a number of drawings of Clive--but not her. Dren, it seems, is becoming quite attracted to Clive, and you'll recall which couple hasn't had sex in quite a while. Oh, and by the way, Clive suddenly realizes that the human DNA Elsa used to create Dren was her own.
Now here come serious spoilers, which normally I wouldn't include, but we need them to discuss the whole subtext happening here. Nevertheless, you may want to skip past the spoilers at this point and come back after you've seen the movie.
Clive comes home, Elsa is gone, and Dren comes on to him, hard. He tries to resist, but ultimately gives in--and you KNOW who walks in at that very moment. This, and the Jerry Springer confrontation that follows had a large portion of my movie audience laughing uproariously for quite a while, which I didn't mind, as they were just enjoying and getting into the movie. But here comes a significant line, when Clive tells Elsa she should have thought thrice about adding her own DNA given "what she knows about her family history." We have also earlier heard Elsa describe her mother as "crazy" and learned that she has SERIOUS issues about coming back to her childhood home, where many awful things happened. She chops off Dren's stinger, and takes it into the lab, where she synthesizes the necessary protein [for their funding] in a snap. Soon after, Dren dies. They bury her. Then, she digs her way out of the grave--and is now MALE.
There follows a final battle, during which the now-male Dren rapes Elsa and kills Clive before being killed herself. There is a final scene back in the pharma office, where we learn that Dren's body has led to a number of discoveries, and Elsa signs an agreement for what we are to assume is giga-dollars in exchange for having DREN'S BABY, that she is now pregnant with. The last image of the film is the company representative and now owner of Elsa's baby, who is styled in a rather traditionally mannish way, standing at a window embracing the pregnant Elsa, both of them looking very much like an expecting couple.
My friend caught a bunch of clues I had missed--so the following revelations are all his--but I think they're right. There are a number of subtle clues that part of Elsa's troubled youth and problems with childbirth stem from her having a child via incest that died. This explains Clive's comment about how she should have known the issues that stem from combining similar DNA "given her family history." So Dren has her DNA, say 50%, and when Dren switches sexes and impregnantes Elsa, the resulting child would have near-total incestuous DNA. As my friend said "Dren becomes Elsa's own father." This is continued by the last image, where the company representative is shown in the manner of the father... and who is, in some thematic way, the father. So the whole movie becomes this giant mobius strip of incestuous offspring generating even more of themselves, and a statement that in this age of genetic engineering the question of who is the actual parent of these offspring becomes very murky. Not to mention the even more relevant idea of responsibility: if there are a number of parties providing funding or encouraging troubling research or actually doing the work, which one is ultimately responsible for the result? And if everyone is... it kind of means no one is.
< < < SPOILERS END
Not like we don't have enough issues going on here with all the thorny issues of parental responsibility and boundaries, Oedipal attraction, maternal passive-aggression and family mental illness. This is one of those movies that is exciting and maintains interest because of its ideas and how it expertly establishes a set of concepts, then continually throws wrenches into its ideological mechanisms.
That it has so many ideas is exactly the problem it faces at the end, when its climax can only come off as a bit rote. But I think this is because the whole movie that has come before has been packed with so many ideas and interesting character points that the last few minutes, with its need to wrap the whole story up in an action-packed way, can't really hope to live up to. Not to mention that the film introduces a major thematic element right at the very end that, given the needs to wrap up the story, can't be given the time the new development deserves. But these are quibbles.
Overall the movie is quite fine, moves quickly, is intelligently written and directed, wonderfully acted, has stunning special effects [the creature seems quite fleshy, real and THERE in a way that brings back the old "How did they do that?" wonder], and yeah, it's one of the better things, of any genre, I've seen in quite a while.
You sure should, especially if you're a horror fan in any way.