For some, the birth of a child is a dream come true. Closer To God, a film that breathes visceral and frightening new life into the Frankenstein mythos, transforms it into a nightmare.
Immediately we are made aware that the usual signifiers of the miracle of life – pregnant woman, hospital room, doctors, a newborn baby’s cry – are supposed to represent terror instead of triumph. The cold, clinical color palette of the delivery room looks sharp and unfriendly instead of warm and inviting. The doctor and his staff do not give encouraging smiles. The sound of a heartbeat feels like a rapidly approaching panic attack.
This is Dr. Victor Reed’s baby, quite literally. Elizabeth is the first human clone, crafted from Reed’s DNA. He’s hand picked a team of scientists for this medical and technological breakthrough, but the announcement of Elizabeth’s birth, at a press conference, is met with suspicion and questioning, not celebratory joy.
Closer To God utilizes a small cast and few locations to perpetrate a claustrophobic, dangerous atmosphere. Tall and imposing, Victor Reed seems more like a mad scientist than a doctor, and his first name is not an accident. He’s married with two small children but his wife is tired, frustrated, and even angry with him for putting his work before his family.
They have a nanny named Mary and she and her husband Richard spend more time with Reed’s young daughters than he does. Even Mary seems afraid of Victor for reasons that will soon be revealed.
Closer To God does an outstanding job of developing tension. People have conversations about things that we don’t fully understand, but we understand that there is far more beneath the surface than we can observe. Much is conveyed with subtle facial expressions and looks that are not reciprocated.
Interspersed with the current story about Elizabeth are black and white flashbacks indicating that this is not the first baby Dr. Reed has cloned.
First-time feature writer/director Billy Senese is a master at teasing out information to the viewer, both visually and narratively, a clever technique that ratchets up the tension to unbearable levels. We want to know, we want to see, but at the same time we are too terrified to bear witness to what might happen.
The sound design in Closer To God is similarly effective. Thomas Nola’s score successfully creates an atmosphere of total dread. The continual sounds of babies screaming, while diegetic in nature, fill the viewer with not only fear but sympathy for these children, who have no control over what happens to them and who are, quite literally, at the mercy of those who may have other priorities than their safety and well-being.
This film addresses some of the same issues as Vincenzo Natali’s body horror creep fest Splice – the arrogance of intelligence, an ambivalent attitude towards morality – and like that film, it does not end on a happy note.
Closer To God does not judge its characters, no matter how flawed they might be, and it does not dictate a firm stance on what science should or should not do. It is however, genuinely, terrifically scary and absolutely worth watching.