Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Closer to God (dir. Billy Senese)

Indie films that try to behave commercially run the risk of falling between two stools, and Billy Senese's cloning thriller Closer to God is a classic example of this. It starts with a team of unglamorous scientists - shades of The Andromeda Strain (1971) - guiding the birth of a human clone, and although crucial questions are left unanswered (such as, where's the funding for all this coming from?), the widescreen visual style is controlled enough to suggest that the movie might just be interested in tackling an explosive and controversial subject in a serious manner.

Vain hope. It never attains the seriousness of The Andromeda Strain, even, let alone its obvious forebear, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Naming the chief scientist "Victor" was a cute, bad idea, although the character is played well by Jeremy Childs. Our Dr. Victor, alas for him and even more so for the film, is hiding the existence of some missteps on his scientific trail that will return to haunt everyone concerned in full-blown horror-movie fashion. The protestors who rise up against the scientists for dabbling in cloning in the first place, because of concerns about dangers in execution / bioethics issues /researcher hubris (take your pick), have no idea, really.

Since Closer to God abandons any pretenses to thoughtfulness or subtlety early on, it is fair to say that it was designed not as a potential succès d'estime but as a "calling card" - a chance to show the Big Money Boys that a director can deliver the Hollywood goods on a small budget. Needless to say, I don't find that as worthy a goal as making a genuinely interesting film, and wanting to continue to do so. To take one example, if a Rian Johnson "graduates" from Brick to Looper to (heaven help us) Star Wars: Episode VIII, the quality going down as his paychecks go up, that is more of interest to his accountant than to film lovers.

But there are good calling cards and bad calling cards, and if Closer to God really worked as a genre piece, I'd be happy to point that out. It doesn't, though. I can't say how it doesn't without giving away too much plot, but the third-act borrowings will be pretty obvious to a seasoned movie buff. The proceedings never become boring, and the film remains watchable till the end, but that is kind of low praise. A calling-card-type film should knock your socks off in the manner of Steven Spielberg's Duel. Otherwise, why bother?

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