Dir/scr: Billy Senese. US. 2014. 84mins
Am ambitious, thoughtful and provocative take on the Frankenstein story, writer/director Billy Senese’s low-budget horror-drama Closer To God is a chilling take on how cloning goes badly wrong and how playing God is not the best of ideas.
Senese smartly keeps things tight and pacy, with the tension allowed to mount nicely as the film heads towards a suitably bloody climax.
It is a short and smart film, and while the acting is less than focused at times Senese’s smart script goes a long way in helping craft a moody film that veers cleverly from science drama to gothic thrills and ends with a climactic burst of old-fashioned horror. Screening at the Fantasia film festival in Montreal, it may lack the name cast to help it break out but genre festivals should relish its ambition.
The film opens in serious fashion with a science lesson about cloning as genetic scientist Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs, from TV series Nashville and a co-producer) announces at a press conference the birth of Elizabeth (Oliva Lyle), the first human clone. Expectedly enough, this unleashes a storm of protest – moral, scientific and religious – but also has an impact at Reed’s home where his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) and two employees at the family estate, Mary (Sheelan Newman) and her husband Richard (David Alford), all react in different ways.
Partly because of the notion of a new arrival to the household (he has to bring Elizabeth there to try and protect her, both from legal interventions and the gathering protestors outside the games) but also because it threatens to expose a secret that may destroy everything he’s worked to achieve.
The film, apparently shot around Tennessee, with locals (including top character actor John Schuck, who adds much gravitas to the proceedings) making up the cast and crew, veers between dramatic styles. The first third is all science and much worrying about ethics vs progress, while the middle section has a gothic feel as angry masses gather outside the estate walls (and yes, they do brandish burning stakes and metaphorical pitchforks). But the final third is old-fashioned creepy horror as ‘that’ secret that has been kept hidden away for many years escapes and starts upping the body count.
The Frankenstein association is clear of course - Victor and Elizabeth are the names of key characters in Mary Shelley’s story – but Senese smartly keeps things tight and pacy, with the tension allowed to mount nicely as the film heads towards a suitably bloody climax.
Production company: LC Pictures
International sales: APA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Jeremy Childs, Jonathan Rogers, Jennifer Spriggs
Executive producers: Billy Senese, Erika Senese
Cinematography: Evan Brace
Editor: Jonathan Rogers
Music: Thomas Nöla
Production designer: Brian Parker
Main cast: Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, David Alford, Shannon Hoppe, Isaac Disney, Jake Speck, John Schuck, Emily Landham