Directed by Billy Senese
Human cloning is a divisive subject, and while many films tend to err on the side of science fiction or an already established world where cloning is an accepted reality, it’s rare to come across a film that deals with the ramifications of such groundbreaking science in as real and terrifying a way as Billy Senese’s debut feature, Closer to God.
The film’s protagonist is Victor Reed (Childs), a genetic scientist who holds the distinction of being the first doctor to successfully clone a human being. Using his DNA mixed with another’s, the baby is named Elizabeth and, save for a transponder seemingly inserted directly into her brain, appears to be the picture of health. Almost immediately the ramifications of such a scientific breakthrough begin to weigh heavy on Victor, but the real trouble lies in a dark secret he keeps from his wife, Claire (Hoppe), known only to him and a pair of caretakers named Richard (Alford) and Mary (Newman) living in a guest home on his property.
The problems associated with cloning a human being come to light almost immediately. Obsessed with his groundbreaking work, Reed’s home life begins to suffer as it becomes apparent that he is neglecting not only his wife and two daughters in favor of baby Elizabeth, but also his “son,” Ethan (Isaac Disney), a heretofore unseen child that is the source of major consternation for Richard and Mary. Furthermore, a crowd of protesters begin to gather around his house, shouting religious mantras that decry Reed’s work and make the claim that Elizabeth doesn’t have a soul.
While the stress of keeping Elizabeth out of the public eye begins to build, his secret past is slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks, allowing him to subtly build up the more horrific and Frankensteinian elements without overpowering the film’s strongest points in any significant manner. This “B” story is inextricably linked to the tension that pervades the “A” story, and while sporadic moments toward the end find the film devolving into cliched monster territory, Senese never strays from the real life implications of cloning. He manages to blend the two seemingly conflicting tones in a way that suggests an incredibly assured man behind the camera.
Thus is the beauty of Closer to God. Even when taking detours to focus on the more horror elements, Victor Reed’s reality remains front and center, with Senese placing the focus entirely on his struggle to maintain order amidst the chaos he unwittingly caused. Supported by a stellar performance from Jeremy Childs, his stoic personality and gaunt appearance supports the image of a man whose goal in being at the forefront of one of the most life-changing discoveries in human history has become more important than considering the consequences of it.
There is this beautiful sense of objectivity in Closer to God that makes it stand out as something special.
Dealing with the moral, ethical, legal, and, most importantly, religious ramifications of human cloning, this stellar low-budget thriller doesn’t seek to pick a side but rather explores both as playing an almost equal part in the aftermath of a lone doctor putting ambition before everything else. The consequences of successful human cloning are unknown, but Senese has crafted a unique and fascinating twist on the Frankenstein tale that brings them to light in an incredibly real and poignant way.