Ever since July 5, 1996, when a bunch of scientists in Scotland cloned a sheep for no particularly good reason other than to show it could be done, human cloning has seemed both an exciting (and terrifying) possibility and an almost boring inevitability. Whenever someone finally decides to flout ethical dictates and popular opinion — currently just 15 percent of Americans think cloning humans is morally acceptable — to create a human clone, it will no doubt mark a turning point in the history of the human race, but it’s a turning point we’ve seen coming from miles and miles away.
The biggest problem for Closer to God, a horror/sci-fi hybrid that seeks to dramatize the ethical debate surrounding the first human clone, is that we’ve been down this road so many times it’s hard to find a new angle on the subject. Writer-director Billy Senese litters the film with “Frankenstein” references, which only serves to highlight how thoroughly this ground has been trod before.
Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has created the world’s first human clone, Elizabeth. When news of this leaks to the outside world, Victor is unprepared to deal with the heated ethical debate surrounding his scientific breakthrough. Protesters, many of whom object to Elizabeth on religious grounds, congregate outside Victor’s gate. Meanwhile, Victor’s earlier attempt at a human clone, a monstrously deformed creature named Ethan, is coming back to haunt him.
Closer to God comes close to working as a thoughtful genre take on the subject of cloning, but it ultimately disappoints as thought-provoking science fiction and as chilling horror. Senese handles his premise surprisingly even-handedly, giving voice to various sides of the debate. But Senese never pushes against the boundaries of his own premise. In the end, we find that Elizabeth is not just a clone, but the revelation has little weight or meaning. He is also fairly effective in ratcheting up the tension, especially with respect to Ethan, who remains a shadowy unknown for much of the film. But there’s no real payoff. The movie ends limply and predictably.
However, the movie is rather attractively mounted, with ominously pretty photography and a nicely chilly electronic score. The film’s look and tone are clearly indebted to David Cronenberg, most obviously in an opening pregnancy sequence that directly evokes Dead Ringers, as well as in the cast’s understated performances. Also, despite some slightly questionable plot turns, the characters act comprehensibly and never do anything aggressively stupid. While, admittedly, none of this is high praise — and it is not enough to recommend Closer to God — it does place the movie well above its competitors in the realm of low-budget horror filmmaking. And it makes me hold out hope that Senese’s next project might make good on the promise of this one.
CLOSER TO GOD will screen theatrically in the following markets starting July 3:
NY – Cinema Village
LA – Laemmle – Music Hall
Portland – Clinton Street Theater
San Francisco – Roxie Theater
Philadelphia – The Roxy
Chicago – Facets Cinematheque
Denver – SIE Film Center
Miami – Cinema Paradiso
Dallas – Texas Theater
Cleveland – Capitol Theater
Also available On Demand:.
Amazon Instant Video