There’s nothing more tiresome than a clumsy, amateurish film attempting to engage weighty issues and failing miserably. Jim, a super low-budget character study concerning genetics, cloning, and faith, tries to do just that, clumsily fusing a dystopic slice of sci-fi wherein worker clones make up Earth’s populace with the modern melodrama of a distraught widower named Jim (Dan Illian). Both threads suffer from wordy voiceover narration that verbalizes the core human struggles on display without merging subtext together in creative ways. So Jim really becomes two plodding movies competing for screen time, each vaguely referencing the other through blunt-force social themes regarding communal infrastructure and individual responsibility.
It’s never a good sign when a movie begins with a polished yet cold infomercial with slyly conformist undertones representing a soulless corporation selling “day after tomorrow” possibilities to a fearful public. The said technology involves constructing the perfect child, with custom-built attributes, skills, and traits built directly into the DNA. Late in the film, Jim calls the process “cut-and-paste” childrearing, and the idea is fascinating and potentially ripe for consideration. But the filmmakers don’t have the skill or precision to develop a coherent relationship between the characters and this miracle of science, and, even worse, this blatant structuring device really doesn’t come into play until the last third of the movie.
Instead, director Jeremy Morris-Burke muddles in the tortured existence of his protagonist for endless amounts of time. The film intercuts between Jim’s current miserable daily routine (unemployment, suicidal thoughts, violence) and flashbacks of his rosier life with his loving wife Susan (Vanessa Morris-Burke), which include gardening, playful banter, and the occasional lovemaking. The visual discrepancies between the two put an extra exclamation point on the tonal differences, anchoring one with poorly lit compositions and the other with blown-out pastels of green and red.
The occasional cutaways to the human-less future introduces a story that carries even less dynamism, as one worker clone, #3774 (Abigail Savage), becomes emotionally self-aware and seeks out the advice of the “Naturals,” the now grown genetically altered children represented in the prologue. The barren and withered landscape Burke creates using low-rent CGI actually carries a haunting quality, but the wooden dialogue and convoluted iconography may induce eye-rolling spasms in the viewer. When #3774 gets kidnapped by a ghoul named “Sole Proprietor” (Michael Strelow), the film reveals its silly ScFy Channel soul, painfully building tension through annoying snap zooms and thudding music. But pretty much every aesthetic choice in Jim is similarly mind-numbing, and by the end, the small amount of heft gleaned from the characterizations becomes completely consumed by stylistic artifice.
When Jim finally comes full circle, the filmmaker’s wrap both stories up through a tragic twist as uninspiring as it is redundant. The motifs, themes, and subtexts about cloning are insanely on the nose, making the obvious and stupid representation of parental pitfalls in Splice look downright subtle by comparison. “That’s our legacy, shit we bury each other in,” Jim muses early on in a particularly lame rant about the plight of mankind. His words could also describe Jim, an ambitious but inane attempt at revealing the universal pitfalls covering our inevitable graves one layer at a time. This facile mix of cynicism and hope curdles with familiarity and simplicity. Let’s all take a deep breath and pray for the species, again.