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Closer to God
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by Jay Seaver

"This modern take on 'Frankenstein' has some excellent parts."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Closer to God" has characters by the name of Victor, Elizabeth, and Mary, and that's likely no coincidence; there are hints of the Frankenstein story throughout and I wouldn't be surprised if the title itself is drawn from the novel. It's a fairly sharp one, too, enough for it to be a bit of a letdown when it moves from interesting science fiction to horror to get things done for the last act.

Baby Elizabeth is the first human clone. She's roughly one month old, with DNA based upon "father" Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs), received gene therapy during gestation, and has a small crystalline "receptor" on her forehead that was airbrushed out of the initial pictures. The release of this information ignites a firestorm of disapproval, and he soon retreats home with his team, where his prolonged absence has his wife Claire (Shannon Hope) distant and reliant on the married couple that tends the estate, Mary (Shelean Newman) and Richard (David Alford), to help look after their two daughters. They've got some experience in this, though, because of the other baby Victor had brought home a few years ago, saying Ethan only had a few weeks to live.

I don't know if the first half or so of this movie describes the actual structures of the private company that could produce the first human clone or the public reaction to it, but it feels like something close enough to reality to make the audience buy into it; we're in close, and while there aren't a lot of technical details being thrown around, there's palpable tension from being surrounded by a world that will almost certainly disapprove. It doesn't feel like a documentary, but close-up, clipped, and full of the right feelings. The filmmakers create a believable environment without it feeling overly elaborate or designed.

I wonder if a lot of the budget was spent on those scenes, because the movie eventually falls back to the Reed estate, and while it brings the idea of how Victor seems anxious to create life but is uninvolved afterward, it shrinks the focus. There's still a great deal of intensity to it even before things come to a boil, but where before writer/director Billy Senese was tossing grand ethical questions at the audience, it reduces to being just about Victor, with the protesters outside the gate becoming a little more exaggeratedly religious, verging on strawmen. The storyline with Ethan is clear from the start, but Senese keeps it to the shadows like it's a mystery to the audience rather than an in-story secret, and it seems to take a very long time getting to a place that is fairly conventional. Although, to be fair, while the last act is something of a standard monster movie, it's executed very well and has moments to make the audience's jaw drop.

There's also a very strong core cast - Jeremy Childs, in particular, being excellent. It's easy to see Victor as initially little more than a cold fish, dedicated to science but lacking a certain humanity, and Childs plays into it, but even in the press conference that introduces Elizabeth to the world, there's something a little empathetic in his non-answers, and as we see him settling in at home, he does start to embody both the zeal to expand knowledge of his namesake without being a caricature. Shannon Hope captures the strain this has placed on the family (and likely the character's own issues) very well, while Shelean Newman is downright excellent as a woman whose capability to handle the responsibilities she's been stuck with is crumbling.

Everything put together, "Closer to God" is a pretty good science fiction movie with some impressive ambition. That may make where it winds up a little more disappointing than it would be if it started out looking like a standard-issue, indifferently-acted horror movie. It's never that, but it also never achieves its most interesting ambitions.

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originally posted: 08/06/14 03:55:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2014 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

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Directed by
  Billy Senese

Written by
  Billy Senese

  Jeremy Childs
  Shelean Newman
  Shannon Hoppe
  David Alford
  John Schuck

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