Lisa Schwarzbaum
June 03, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Like an exciting experimental genetic strain bred of time-tested DNA, the cool, unwieldy sci-fi horror-thriller Splice can trace its cinematic ancestry back to Frankenstein. Yet as co-written and directed with obsessive passion by Vincenzo Natali (Cube), the movie is a cheeky, great-looking, thoughtfully loopy creature feature about the lure and dangers of cutting-edge gene splicing.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley bring intensity and attractive intelligence to the characters of Clive and Elsa (a little joke allusion to Bride of Frankenstein), romantically linked hotshot genetic engineers who, when thwarted by the pharmaceutical company that funds them, conceive their greatest hybrid experiment in secret. And behold, their test-tube fiddling gives life to Dren, a creature that?s part human and part…thing, with long, hinged bird legs and retractable wings. Played to novelty perfection by French actress Delphine Chanéac, Dren (another wink—that?s ?nerd? backward) is everything amazing and unholy about the human ability to mess with creation. The outstanding creature effects by Howard Berger only get more astonishing as Splice splits into an eerie horror picture, then divides again into something out of Rosemary?s Baby. A-

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