Tagged Metaphor

CLOSER TO GOD and the Ethics of Science

Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.

★★★
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Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.

Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.

The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
75-3Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
maxresdefaultIt’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.

When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.

There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
Closer-God-protestor-yelling-700x467As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
screen_shot_2015-07-08_at_9.51.22_am.pngIn the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.

I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN’s Religious Parable

Nothing Bad Can Happen. 2014. Directed & Written by Katrin Gebbe.
Starring Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, and Annika Kuhl. Celluloid Dreams.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

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While I usually try not to go too deep into personal theories of a movie, if it appears to me as metaphorical, Nothing Bad Can Happen feels very much to me like a film meant to be taken as metaphor, and with that, I feel like this review will mostly focus on my subjective interpretation.

The film follows a young man named Tore (Julius Feldmeier) in Hamburg who attempts to build a new life in a religious group, The Jesus Freaks. After having a seizure during a rock band’s performance, a man named Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) helps him out, and brings him to safety at his home. There, he begins a relationship with Benno and his family. Eventually Tore even moves into a small guest area at Benno’s home. However, things soon become darker, more sinister for Tore than he could have ever anticipated. A battle of wits begin, as Benno begins to mentally and physically torture Tore. Though the young man clings to his faith, Benno becomes more sadistic as time goes by, ultimately inflicting some of worst punishment possible on Tore.
Toretanzt_JuliusFeldmeier_SwantjeKohlhof_TORE_SANNYThis is apparently based on a news article director/writer Katrin Gebbe read. While I have not searched out the article in question, I still believe Gebbe uses the, at times brutal, story as a way to discuss religion. In particular, she looks at how those who are constantly, and consistently, abused over and over by their religious institutions still keep their faith – often going so far as to excuse the abuse. Furthermore, the actions of Benno as the movie progresses make you realize he was initially trolling for weaker prey when first meeting Tore – once he saw the younger man seizure, he knew this was his victim. Also, you can obviously realize after some time Benno is not Christian any sense whatsoever – much how I feel about those who abuse their power to rape and abuse those without it using their religious position to conceal their actions (those people do not truly believe in anything – religion or otherwise).
23_Toretanzt_0026652_ASTRID-AnnikaKuhl_TORE_JuliusFeldmeier_BENNO_SaschaGersakThis method Benno uses is exactly how the abusers, using religion as their cover, choose which person to subject to their torturous desires. Much like the rapists using the Roman Catholic Church to cover up their heinous sexual assaults on countless, seemingly never ending boys and girls. And still, the abuse reigns on as people continue to bow at the altar of these corrupt churches. Without ruining the ending, there is very little optimism in the finale of Nothing Bad Can Happen – there is a half and half, bittersweet sort of finish. One side speaks to us so that we can learn from all these abuses, and hopefully some who face this abuse also can get away eventually. On the other side, we see how faith can get someone through terrible, horrifying trauma, and yet at the same time could really destroy one’s self altogether. As much as Gebbe based this on supposed true events, I really do believe this is meant to be a metaphor of the larger-scale abuse going on throughout many religions – not simply the Catholics, as I mentioned (I was personally brought up Roman Catholic due to my mom and I living with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life & when finally given the chance by my mother and father a few years later I gave up church for the rest of my life). Every religion has, and is capable of, abuses, and this almost says to me alone that religion is not as wonderful and miraculous as those who practice their individual religions regularly would have you believe. Nothing Bad Can Happen explores all these things, and more, through a very dramatic film while also incorporating real savage moments of psychological horror.
14_Toretanzt_IMG_9721_TORE_JuliusFeldmeierThe absolute best part of the film is its central performance. Julius Feldmeier plays Tore brilliantly. The whole film is quite subdued and what I call “quiet” – there isn’t any action, it’s all based around the drama of the script.  In these “quiet” films (I’m not generalizing – just stating for the purpose of this review), I find actors often get to really get into the scenes more, in terms of character. Sure, action stars can really get into their own characters, but in films like Nothing Bad Can Happen where the plot does involve or incorporate any big set pieces, special effects, or other things et cetera et cetera, actors have nothing else except for the dramatics of their character and the scenes to focus on. All of the subject matter here is very heavy, and Feldmeier gives a great performance as a young man who is determined to find his way through life, and everything that comes with it, through his belief in Jesus Christ. As somebody who does not take part in organized religion, an actor has to do some serious work for me to empathize with a character who is almost blinded by his faith. Regardless, Feldmeier does such a good job as Tore it was impossible not to feel for his character. With every degrading act Benno unleashes on Torre, both the determination and pain coming through in Feldmeier’s performance tightened the tension of the film, as well extended my empathy tenfold for the character. Really great stuff. I believe this is the first feature film Feldmeier has been a part of, and I do hope to see him again soon after this one.
303541.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNothing Bad Can Happen didn’t reach Canada until 2014. Because of this, it is absolutely one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing this past year. I’ve included it on Fathersonholygore’s Best of 2014 List. There’s something about this film which captivates me, and I believe most of that is due to the fact Katrin Gebbe gives us a dose of reality while also spinning the story into a much larger fabric representing the universal abuse of the weak, and possibly gullible, followers by their own religious institutions.
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400The film itself is a real great work of drama with thriller elements, and a healthy dose of horror, to my mind anyways. This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. I can’t wait to get a copy on Blu ray because there are no doubt bits and pieces I missed when I first had the privilege of seeing the film. Highly recommended. Keep an open mind – an inquisitive, free mind – and think about the bigger implications of Nothing Bad Can Happen. A real powerful work from Katrin Gebbe – someone who I again hope to see more from in the near future.