Tuesday, 15 July 2014

CLOSER TO GOD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Cloning Thriller an O.K. Modern Frankenstein take @FantAsia2014

Closer To God (2014) dir. Gary Senese
Starring: Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, John Schuck

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Bouncing Baby Elizabeth has just been born. She's a clone created by Dr. Reed (Jeremy Childs) and after years of research and plenty of failures, it looks like he's finally hit pay dirt. When word leaks, all hell breaks loose. The media has a field day, various government authorities plot all manner of legal attacks, the hospital is besieged by crazed born-again Christian protestors and strange visitors wander halls they shouldn't even be in. When Reed has the cloned baby and his lab moved to his palatial country estate, the circus follows him and now his family are virtual prisoners in their own home (which is surrounded by armed security guards).

Though things seem well with the baby, something is still amiss. Years earlier, the good doctor conducted cloning experiments with a local couple and the results were not at all successful. In fact, something that shouldn't have survived, has. It ain't pretty and it's mighty angry.

A new kind of hell will soon break loose.

Closer to God is a reasonably effective low-budget take on the Frankenstein story which is certainly watchable, but falls short of the calculatingly chilly style of Cronenberg's early work that it most resembles. Writer-Director Gary Senese attempts to infuse his film with an intelligent discourse involving ethical issues and the struggles between science and religion. Alas, it's missing the excruciating tension of films like Shivers, Rabid and The Brood, but worst of all, it's bereft of the perverse nature of those pictures. Because it takes itself so very seriously, Closer to God is also missing anything resembling humour. Given its ultimately pulpy roots (less Mary Shelley, more Universal Horror Franchise versions dolloped with cool Cronenbergian aspirations), the movie plays out like a straight-to-VOD time killer with a tiny bit more brains than the usual dross clogging the airwaves and cyberspace.

Its underpopulated locations - both exterior and exterior - betray the low budget, especially in the small number of bodies used for the masses of protestors and structurally, the story doesn't adequately blend the subplot involving the experiment gone wrong so that what little suspense the film actually has, comes far too late in the proceedings. The story also relies too heavily on flashbacks to fill in details of character and logic, so much so that we're taken out of the forward trajectory the film needs to work as the thriller it aspires to be.

The performances are an odd mix of wooden (almost all of them) to genuinely superb (Jeremy Childs), but perhaps the best thing that can be said here is that the wonderful character actor John Schuck is a real sight for sore eyes in his all-too-brief role as the good doctor's lawyer. Most will remember Schuck from his second-fiddle role in the long-running McMillan and Wife TV series, but those who care anything at all about movies will remember him as a part of Robert Altman's company of players during his richest period of the 1970s (he portrayed, among other immortal roles, the "Painless Pole" in M*A*S*H and the lowlife Chicamaw in Thieves Like Us).

Closer to God isn't awful, but given the subject matter, it falls considerably short of its promise. My hat is off to Senese for attempting to deliver an old tale in contemporary garb, but close is still "no cigar".

THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-half Stars

Closer to God enjoyed its International Premiere at the 2014 edition of the FantAsia International Film Fest in Montreal.