Closer to God’s what-if premise centers around Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs), the first scientist to successfully clone a human in order to genetically strengthen the body so it can completely eradicate disease. Naturally, the polarizing presence of the baby clone, named Elizabeth, causes widespread debates between supporters and detractors, with protests occasionally leading to violence. Not only is the attention putting a strain on Victor’s family life, but he must also keep a mysterious failed experiment hidden from the public.
Writer-director Billy Senese contextualizes a simple mad-scientist scenario for a modern society inundated with protests and the 24-hour news cycle, and as such the filmmaker emphasizes, through extensive news-report inserts, how the various social and ethical issues inherent in Reed’s work are twisted through unending rhetoric. TV pundits in the film pose many philosophical inquiries, but, as Reed’s increasingly rote story proves, Senese is unwilling to seriously tackle or even elaborate on them. The end result is that Closer to God comes to resemble Re-Animator as told through an airless CNN report.
In a largely emotionless performance, Childs effectively portrays the “evil genius” archetype not as a man drunk with the power of playing god, but as someone numb from time spent as the object of dueling ideologies and having his every professional action looked at under the microscope. Given Reed’s clinical nature, and how detached he is from his own wife and children, the most intriguing aspect of the character is how nurturing he is to Elizabeth, protecting her with the kind of adoration a father shows his infant daughter, rather than treating her with the same kind of emotional indifference he shows everything else. Through subtly affectionate gestures and expressions, Childs conveys Reed as if he created Elizabeth solely for himself: as an elaborate opportunity to feel unconditional human compassion once again.
Only spoken about throughout the film, Reed’s secret failed experiment is a disfigured and savage man-child, Ethan (Isaac Disney), kept locked in a room in the home of Reed’s housekeeper. Once Ethan predictably escapes, Closer to God shifts to a routine slasher film as he hunts down his captors. What’s surprising about this shift is how abruptly Senese abandons the litany of questions and musings concerning such subjects as science versus religion and the ethics of cloning. To the filmmaker’s credit, he understands the power of withholding his villain’s appearance, and as such the nebulous brief flashes we get of Ethan’s misshapen form (as well as hearing his bloodcurdling scream) attain an effectively disturbing quality—even despite the fact that Senese’s teasing of Ethan to the audience unintentionally evokes how the filmmaker only hints at a unique commentary on playing God.