Torch-wielding villagers had appeared in film before 1931, but the mob in James Whale’s Frankenstein is the one that became the template. The throngs that gather in Closer to God have cast aside pitchforks in favor of bullhorns and protest signs, but first-time writer-director Billy Senese nods to their antecedent in an arresting, fiery dream sequence. His update presents us with the thoroughly modern Prometheus of Victor Reed, a geneticist who has cloned a human baby and sees the tide of public opinion rising against him. Jeremy Childs is convincing as the scientist, a cold fish who neglects his family in favor of his newest flesh-and-blood creation. Senese presents Reed’s detractors as similarly myopic, siding instead with the people in the middle, particularly the big-hearted couple (Shelean Newman and David Alford) enlisted to care for one of Reed’s earlier attempts at cloning, a misshapen child hidden on his estate. While the new baby, Elizabeth, offers the hope of scientific advancement, her older “brother” Ethan (Isaac Disney), naively violent and getting stronger as he grows, embodies both its victims and its dangers. The drama plays out as expected — the ending, particularly, seems too pat — but offers several well-executed moments of tension along the way.
Closer to God
Written and directed by Billy Senese
Breaking Glass Pictures
Opens July 3, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 1, 2015