'Closer to God': Film Review

Closer to God Still - H 2015
Courtesy of LC Pictures

Closer to God Still - H 2015

This modern-day Frankenstein tale feels a little too cloned, itself.

A scientist runs into trouble when he creates the first human clone in Billy Senese's sci-fi thriller.

With its scientist protagonist named Victor, Billy Senese's sci-fi thriller Closer to God emphasizes its inspiration from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This low-budget effort depicting the calamitous aftereffects of the first successful human cloning presents a modern-day spin on its familiar subject matter. Instead of rampaging, torch-wielding villagers decrying the scientist's tampering with nature, there are bloviating cable-television commentators.

The film begins with the seemingly normal birth of a baby girl named Elizabeth except the infant immediately has a sensor attached to her forehead. It turns out that she's the creation of Dr. Victor Reed (a very convincing Jeremy Childs), a geneticist determined to use cloning to strengthen the human race. When photographs of the baby leak to the media, he's forced to give an awkward press conference in which he explains that, technically, he's not just Elizabeth's father, but also her brother.

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Things get worse from there, as the good doctor is barraged by a negative publicity blitz, threats of prosecution from various government authorities and throngs of protestors outside his suburban home. It naturally puts a strain on his marriage to his wife, Claire (Shannon Hoppe), with whom he's had two daughters in the more conventional manner.

But even more disturbing is the eventual revelation that the seemingly normal baby girl is not the first product of the doctor's scientific experiments. His first effort was Ethan (Isaac Disney), and it clearly was not a success. The misshapen, maladjusted youth secretly is cared for by Victor's married housekeepers (Shelean Newman, David Alford), and Ethan's increasingly violent behavior, accompanied by guttural outbursts, veers the proceedings into conventional horror-movie territory.

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The latter aspect is handled in fairly effective, if predictable, fashion, with the feral little boy, seen only in fleeting glimpses, a truly disturbing creation. But the film is less effective in its attempted philosophical examination of its serious themes, largely composed of sound bites from Fox News-style pundits and such shouted exclamations from the protestors as "She has no soul!" The results are neither sufficiently weighty to attract serious-minded audiences nor scary enough for genre fans. The writer-director deserves credit for his comparatively low-key approach to the potentially exploitative material, but much like the infant baby at its center, the film seems artificially cobbled together.

Cast: Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, Isaac Disney, Olivia Lyle
Director-screenwriter: Billy Senese
Producers: Billy Senese, Jeremy Childs, Jonathan Rogers, Jennifer Spriggs
Executive producers: Billy Senese, Erika Senese
Director of photography: Evan Spencer Brace
Production designer: Brian Parker
Editor: Jonathan Rogers
Costume designers: Buffy Brooks, Velvet Elizabeth
Composer: Thomas Nola
Casting director: Jeremy Childs

Not rated, 81 minutes