Closer to God (2014) [REVIEW] [Fantastic Fest ’14]

Here it is! The first movie of Fantastic Fest 10! U-S-A! U-S-A! Wouldn’t it be ironic if I started chanting that and then found out that the movie was Canadian or something? Hahaha. That’d be so embarrassing, Wolfman! You stupid doofus! Don’t worry, I just checked, it was made in Tennessee. Arguably one of THE most American places on the planet! Great job, everybody. With a name like “Closer to God,” I think we all know what to expect. We expected a sequel to Greg Kinnear’s Dear God, right? RIGHT? Well, you heard it here first, Closer to God is NOT a sequel to a Greg Kinnear movie! Nope, lucky for us, it is an intense thriller about the consequences of the advancements of science in both literal and metaphorical consequences. And it’s good. DAMN good.

Victor (Jeremy Childs) is cautiously optimistic about the birth of Elizabeth, as all human births come with complications. The added complication with Elizabeth is that she is the first human clone and her genetics have been modified in hopes of amplifying brain development. Dammit, Victor! Why must you tamper with God’s will!? When Victor returns home, he’s met by his family with mixed emotions. On the one hand, they’re proud of him for the work he’s accomplished, on the other hand, he’s brought unwanted attention to his home. Protesters start gathering outside his home demanding Victor pay for his crimes against God, but he’s not so interested in that. He could be living a totally safe life inside his house, except for the fact that one of his previous, deformed clones is still alive in the attic. Ethan (Isaac Disney) was never supposed to make it longer than a month, so Victor is counting down the daysย until Ethan dies, but it’s been a few hundred longer than expected. The threat of Victor’s safety becomes a little bit more imminent when Ethan breaks free from the attic. Unsafe in his home, unsafe out of his home, Victor must finally confront the wrath that he’s brought upon himself for challenging God.

Don’t you just love it when a movie can change gears halfway through in an unexpected and enjoyable direction? Did that sound sarcastic? I was trying to be genuine! The moment when your realize that one of Victor’s previous experiments is still alive changes the tone of the film completely and gives every scene a sense of unease. Since Ethan is heard more often than he’s seen, you don’t really know the extent of Victor’s experiments on him. The more effective sequences involve hearing Ethan, yet not knowing what he’s doing. The sounds he’s making through his actions take an immense emotion toll on Mary, Ethan’s caretaker. Mary, played by Shelean Newman was by far the most conflicted and tortured character, and was easily my favorite. Paying a woman to take care of a baby while it’s dying seems torturous enough, nevermind the fact that the baby refuses to die and whose behavior becomes more and more unpredictable, all while getting more emotionally attached to it. There were lots of segments I found really unsettling, and most of them were the unspoken sequences involving Mary and Ethan.

Writer/director Billy Senese took a highly controversial topic and showed us the horrors of both sides. On the one hand, you had religious fanatics expressing their outrage at the situation while threatening physical violence while also showing the real world consequences of Victor’s attempts at playing God. Granted, the societal threats are a little bit more believable than the literal threats of a deformed humanoid creature coming after you, but Senese wasn’t trying to play the zealots like they were wrong for what they were doing. I was a little hesitant when I saw that Closer to God was listed as a “drama” and wondered why it was at a genre festival, and now I know why. Sure, the film can be right at home with other hard sci-fi films like Moon or the genre straddling Proxy,ย but it also tap into a primal fear of the “other” and is at its most effective when it’s not showing you exactly what you’re dealing with. Do you remember the Treehouse of Horror episode where it’s revealed that Bart has a monstrous twin living in the attic? Well, imagine if that was turned into an intense sci-fi drama thriller, and that’s Closer to God. Let’s see them put THAT on a poster.

Wolfman Moon Scale

three quarters moon

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