A cocky, charming pair of modern-day Frankensteins make a monster. It's a comparatively lightweight plot and it takes a decision in the third act that's going to throw a lot of people out of the movie (e.g. me), but it's also brave and impressively twisted.
Our Frankensteins are Adrien Brody (youngest ever winner of a Best Actor Oscar, for Polanski's The Pianist in 2002) and Sarah Polley (Oscar-nominated writer-director who also acts). They're very good. They play a married couple who work alongside each other as genetic engineers, growing mewing penis slug monsters. They have impressive rapport and a married couple shorthand that also speaks of superintelligent people who are complete focused on the same job (and love it). However the company they work for is a tad slimy and short-sighted, which pushes them into making Dren. That's what Polley calls her. It has human DNA in the mix, plus a bunch of other stuff that might include fish and/or butterflies.
Our heroes' psychology is key. Polley thinks she doesn't want children, but she's awfully maternal towards this bouncy kangaroo rat with a tail that can punch a hole in a man. I loved her "it's so cute" reactions. Meanwhile Brody's the practical one who's capable of divorcing morality from his decisions, with a papering of words like "science" and "experiment" to make it seem all right. He's less enthusiastic about keeping Dren alive than Polley, although the feelings of all three go through extreme changes.
This brings me back to that outrageous third-act decision. My reaction at the time was "what a gibbering idiot" (if nothing else, the barn has cameras!), but if you can swallow the massive implausibility then it's taking the film down some interesting roads.
Dren's a great creation. She's the big unknown at the heart of the film, neither explored nor explained. We watch her behaviour. We speculate about what she's thinking. She acquires intelligence and can occasionally communicate with Scrabble tiles, but she talks in insect chittering and it's perhaps a shame that the film never lets us take her point of view. However she's a vivid screen presence, brought to life with CGI and special effects that would have been way beyond a film of this budget even five years earlier. I love the creature design in this movie.
We also see her boobs and it's not merely gratuitous nudity.
The last act is the least interesting. Even if you can swallow the Big Idiot Moment, you've then got to accept a fairly predictable finale of the story elements you're expecting. There's nothing wrong with where it goes, but it's not hitting anything out of the park.
Brody and Polley's characters are named after Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein
, by the way.
I quite liked this one. I didn't adore it, but it's an interesting piece that made me slightly uncomfortable throughout. We're not stupid. We've seen movies before. We can tell that this isn't going to end in rainbows and butterflies. Brody and Polley are excellent, really investing in the material, and a great deal of the movie's effectiveness is down to them. I love the way Polley tells off Dren like a mother when someone's on the verge of getting killed, for instance. "No, stop! You go to your place." Guillermo del Toro was one of the producers, incidentally, and I can see how this would be something he'd go for. Its monster with a soul feels like del Toro. That's a compliment, obviously.