Tagged Morality

Paranoid Park; Or, Teenage Crime and Punishment

Paranoid Park. 2007. Directed & Written by Gus Van Sant; based on the novel of the same name by Blake Nelson.
Starring Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Jake Miller, Dan Liu, Lauren McKinney, & Scott Green. MK2/Maximum Films/IFC Films.
Rated 14A. 84 minutes.
Drama

★★★★
POSTER
Gus Van Sant is yet another American director by which I’m enthralled. Not every last project he undertakes is as spectacular as his greatest, though there’s always a sense he pays attention to the minute details of his stories, that he wants to whittle life down to the nitty gritty. Each Van Sant film usually explores people on the fringe, characters living at the edges of society in one way or another, often the types that are sensitive to the world and its plights. No matter what his focus, Van Sant’s eye is always catching the beauty of the situation.
Paranoid Park examines the guilt (and paranoia which comes as a packaged deal) of a young skater kid, whose thoughtless action one night leads to the accidental murder of a security guard on the local train tracks. Based on a Young Adult novel by Blake Nelson, Van Sant adapts the screenplay into a psychological piece of cinema that looks at the hubris of youth and the disaffected attitudes of a young man, as well as ponders deeply the meaning of morality, how we live with ourselves when something challenges it, and most importantly how we either repent or forget our actions. Cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Rain Kathy Li help Van Sant cultivate his flawless look and feel, which fits so perfectly in the world of high school. As we float along with the camera, we’re given a peek into a time of life everybody’s been through. Although, the boy in the middle of all this experiences a far more adult situation than his brain, his morality, his will power can ultimately tolerate.
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The flowingly beautiful cinematography is amazing. So many sequences I could mention, though it’d take forever. I love how the cinematographers slow certain things down, scenes you’d likely not imagine in slow motion. And in this way, they capture the gravitas of the situation, the plot. We can see clearly how devastated emotionally the main character becomes, as the camera lingers on him, on his movements, his face. Every little morsel of detail gets captured and in an extravagant way. To the point high school and teenage life seems more glorious and grand than it ever did in real life. There’s a heightened realism which hooks you. The visuals root the emotional experience of this film’s journey with the main character, taking you on a ride that feels at times as if it has you over the top of the clouds, gliding without care yet at the same time with the weight of the world upon your shoulders.
There’s great use of music, too. There’s this very classical sense about the film overall, as if it were made with adults in mind yet a story concerning teenagers. Lots of big band type stuff, pieces of music that’ll harken back to the 1940s and 1950s both in terms of music at the time, as well as in the sense of the movie itself feeling like one of those yesteryear classics. This in part plays into the feeling that Paranoid Park is similarly themed as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, that these teenagers – mostly the main character Alex (Gabe Nevins) – are ahead of their time. Perhaps that’s not a good thing, perhaps Alex is too ahead of himself and doesn’t realize the destruction he’s wreaking upon his own innocence. Nevertheless, there’s an old timey atmosphere in some of the shots.
Other wise, Van Sant continues on with his impressive style. Gorgeous, sweeping tracking shots, slow motion moments where time feels stalled and we’re watching Alex try and keep his mind straight while walking through a world filled with distractions and danger. The quiet and thoughtful style of Van Sant helps us feel involved in the plot, and most importantly we’re engrained in the perspective of Alex while he holds onto his sanity, trying to salvage his morality; if the latter is even possible.
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When it comes to the plot and the characters, everything feels so natural. I love the scene where police officers come to talk with skateboarders at the high school because you can hear them talking lightly over him, making comments, laughing and carrying on. There’s a real sense of disaffected, disconnected youth. When the cop passes around a picture of the murder victim and everybody sees him cut in half on the tracks, most of the young boys laugh, blown away by the brutality yet seeming utterly undisturbed. Certainly there’s a hint of something in Alex’s eyes, but even he doesn’t appear overly moved. At least not until later. But all the characters, the setting, the way high school kids feel throughout the screenplay and how the skaters interact with people and one another, is every bit organic. Couple that with the wonderful cinematography and there’s a highly realistic quality always present that makes us feel initiated into the world which Van Sant shows us.
Front and centre, Nevins puts in a spectacular performance. He is the crux of it all. In some cases, young actors are not my favourite. If we’re being honest. Only some are able to attain the level of emotionality necessary for fiction; others rarely hit that mark and always feel as if they’re acting, never like they’ve slipped into the role. Nevins has a natural quality that’s always there, through each scene and situation. His emotional depth is vast. We see him in the shower ready to break down, juxtaposed with his otherwise calm demeanour. We watch him go over everything in his mind, pieces of memory and slivers of guilt. This is a great role and Nevins uses it to the fullest. At times I want to shake him. Sometimes I’d like to throw my arm around him, say it’s going to be okay. Either way, the character of Alex and his moral dilemma comes across well through Nevins, pulling us in until we’re so close that the suffocating guilt and paranoia the character feels is nearly our own.
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I bought Paranoid Park years ago on a whim. I love Gus Van Sant, even if I don’t love every one of his films. Though, most I do. I’m glad I picked this movie up because it pays off incredibly. There’s a nice sense of slow burning drama, almost to a point of thriller-like tendencies. Although what Van Sant does is keep things dreamy, perpetually enclosing us in the psychological space of our main character, the troubled young skater Alex. Using excellent cinematography, fun choices of music, and riding on the important performance of Gabe Nevins, Paranoid Park tries to get at the heart of morality, how it operates in the idiotically naivety of youth. Mostly, it presents Alex’s moral dilemma and then asks us to speculate about what sort of person he is, and what kind of man he will be eventually. Moreover, Van Sant attempts to peer inside how we connect with the world in our youth and the various ways in which we’re meant to act, versus all the ways in which we want to act and how we hope to connect with the world. A scene late in the film involving Alex and his girlfriend epitomizes his disconnect from life and the world around him, from a sense of normality. It’s easy to see that Van Sant, as well as novelist Blake Nelson, understand the trials of youth. Placed in an extreme situation, these trials are even more intense, and this film opens them up in front of us in all its psychologically scarring glory.

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Lamb is Engaging and Incredibly Hard to Swallow

Lamb. 2015. Directed & Written by Ross Partridge; based on the novel of the same name by Bonnie Nadzam.
Starring Ross Partridge, Oona Laurence, Jess Weixler, Tom Bower, Scoot McNairy, Lindsay Pulsipher, Jennifer Lafleur, & Joel Murray. The Shot Clock/Silent Helicopter.
Rated R. 97 minutes.
Drama

★★★★
POSTER
This is a difficult movie, in every sense of the word. It’s hard to rate. It’s hard to understand, both in intent and in the message it puts across by the end. Although I’ve never read the novel Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam, there are bound to be things lost in translation from book to film. Even seeing only this adaptation I can understand why so many book reviews compare Nadzam’s protagonist(/antagonist) to Humbert Humbert in Nabokov. However, the comparisons can’t be too close, as there are significant differences in theme.
Lamb is a terribly difficult confrontation of love’s dangerous possibilities. At the same time, the film explores this through the eyes of a lonely, washed up sort of man whose intentions are never fully clear. What director-writer-star Ross Partridge does is craft an atmospheric drama that also plays much like a thriller. The closer to the edge of morality Lamb takes us, the harder it is to pull away. And even in its most tense moments, no matter how it makes you feel, the characters will make you question just how you’ve gotten to that point.
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David Lamb (Ross Partridge) just lost his father, as well as his marriage. Everything is falling apart at work, too. One afternoon, sitting on a curb and ruminating on his shit life, David is confronted by a young girl named Tommie (Oona Laurence). When he tries to be a father figure they begin a friendly relationship. But then he decides to invite her on a road trip. Except her parents don’t know. Nobody does.
So off they go. And as their trip to the mountains begins the line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t slowly blurs.
David also heads out onto his own journey of self-discovery, which is never, ever easy. He and Tommie discover things about life they’d never once imagined.
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The one scene that actually made me feel downright frightened is when David spills coffee on Tommie, then insists she get in the bath. While the spill of the hot coffee wasn’t intentional there’s part of you that wonders if something like that wasn’t coming all along, at some juncture of the journey. But his insistence, his refusal to leave the bathroom even when the curtain’s drawn over the tub, his turning on of the water, so much of it speaks to that control men with paedophilic tendencies seek to gain. He slowly but surely pushes through her boundaries.
People want to debate whether he did anything sexual to Tommie. Sure, you can definitely consider it a debatable topic. However, my offer of proof is David’s breakdown later when he says: “If you discover that one day you hate me and youre angry with me and that Ive ruined your life, at any time, if Im 90, youll tell me, wont you?” He gets even worse, more angry towards himself in the scene. To me, and this is merely personal opinion, David has admitted right there and then that something not right has occurred. Now maybe that’s not sexual, maybe he just feels the boundaries were pushed too far in general. Not sure. But something certainly happened, whether it’s simply the overall tone of their relationship, or something further than we saw onscreen went down – who knows. There’s just something about that speech from David, the emotion in him, which really says he’s done a bad thing. Plenty of his previous behaviour already speaks to that. This later moment is probably the most overt of them all.
Perhaps, above all else, David/Gary’s exertion of control and power over young Tommie is due to his narcissism. He may not be a paedophile at all. He could simply be the loneliest man on earth. Driven to, essentially, kidnapping a child just to reassure himself, just to have someone to love him – to make someone love him. After his life collapsed he needed something, anything. Whether he was sexual with her is up for debate, but either way his disregard for Tommie’s feelings and her innocence and childhood is horrific.
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What’s most interesting, despite the tough subject matter and themes, is how Partridge manages to make this an emotional drama. There is a quiet beauty to the entire work. Even when I was horrified at the implications of many scenes, the way it’s presented comes off incredibly mature and written, performed, directed with great care. This movie is one tough sell. For some it may repulse them immediately once the plot kicks in. For others, the odd charm of its danger will lure them through to the finish. Patridge directs elegantly with the luscious cinematography of Nathan M. Miller at his side. There are so many gorgeous looking moments for such a morally disturbing and challenging story.
Both Partridge and young Miss Laurence do a fantastic job carrying a difficult piece of cinema. The final moments, regardless of how unsettling the relationship was, completely tear out your soul. Without someone young and charismatic like Laurence, this role would never have been filled with life. She managed to make it into a performance of depth and essence, not a small feat for a child actor. For his part, Partridge’s ability as an actor has impressed here because he makes you wonder, he keeps you guessing, and never are the inner workings of his mind too evident. There’s always some part of him to keep you off balance. Their chemistry is undeniable and made this movie into drama with weight.
A veritable 4-star experience. Put to the side your judgements, let it flow through you. See what happens.

True Detective – Season 2, Episode 6: “Church in Ruins”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 2, Episode 6:
 “Church in Ruins
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik (BansheeGame of Thrones)
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the next episode, “Black Maps and Motels Rooms” – click here
* For a review of the previous episode, “Other Lives” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.27.47 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.28.31 AMBeginning where we left off, the tense moments between Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) pick up. Frank sits down with some coffee, asking if Ray would like some sugar, anything else. Normally you might laugh, however, the tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
I would’ve been different,” says Ray.
Of all the lies people tell themselves,” Frank replies.
I sold my soul for nothin’,” Ray says as he bursts at the seams.
That choice was in you before your wife or any of this other stuff. It was always there, waiting,” Frank tells him.

There is still a solid discussion of morality going here. Essentially, Ray Velcoro has still committed murder; no matter how we cut the cards. Frank Semyon puts it bluntest, and maybe most truthful, when he tells Ray: “Own it.” Because yes – Frank is a dirty dog, he tricked Ray into believing he was doing his wife justice by killing the man who raped her, when truly it was a point of leverage for Frank, to have a cop under his thumb.
But at the same time, Nic Pizzolatto is having his characters basically ask us – is murder ever justified? These are philosophical situations. I think people – some, not all – seem to be pissed because the second season lacks what the first had in the existentialist dialogue of Rust Cohle. When really, you just have to pay attention: it’s all there. Pizzolatto just isn’t spelling it out as blatantly as he was in the first season through Rust. More power to him – his detractors last season were complaining that Rust and his ramblings made things clunky. You can never satisfy everyone. The morality question is constantly in play, most certainly the heaviest theme going on for Ray Velcoro’s arc.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.28.44 AMProblem for Ray is, he’s supposed to be helping Dt. Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and Dt. Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch).
Instead he’s at the prison confronting the actual man who raped his wife, seeing as how the man he’d killed at the word of Frank Semyon was not the actual rapist.
Tense damn scene with Velcoro here. Incredibly tense and cutting acting. The look in Farrell’s eyes always seems to speak more than he ever can with whatever dialogue he’s given – such expression in them, his whole face. I’ve long said Farrell is an excellent actor when given the appropriate material. Much the same as I feel often about Taylor Kitsch; he’s giving a great turn this season, as well.
Even worse again, Ray is having to go to supervised visits with his son. It’s painful to see their relationship because Ray wants to hold on – he doesn’t care whether or not the biological father is the rapist. He needs something other than being a cop, being a vigilante, to make him whole, and that something is being a father. Every little bit that it slips away, I can see the cracks forming in Ray’s outer shell, his ego already crumbled long ago, and the more it falls away there’s no telling where Velcoro is going to end up.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.29.54 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.30.17 AMFrank tells the son of his dead ‘colleague’: “This hurt, it can make you a better man. That’s what pain does – it shows you what was on the inside.” Here, for the first time, we can actually see that good side of Frank that does want to be a part of the world. We can see that Frank wants to be a father, and he might be a good one.
Juxtaposed with Frank and this fatherly moment, we see the deterioration of Ray and his son.
I am your father, you are my son,” says Ray. “I will always love you.” You can see the torture inside him as he grasps onto the last bits of himself. Right afterwards, he heads home and hits the booze, rails a ton of cocaine, and just gets completely obliterated. The stable little bits of Velcoro we saw, those tiny glimpses, are quickly vanishing.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.30.53 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.31.12 AMI cannot say it enough – Colin Farrell is fucking knocking this role out of the park and into the lot, smashing the windows, sending everyone home. Anyone who says different is not paying attention. I don’t care what you think of the overall plot, if you can’t admit that Farrell is nailing the character of Ray Velcoro then you’re beyond blind. His drunk and stoned scene, the aftermath, it is complete perfection. There’s no way it could’ve been played any better, it felt like watching an actual man fall apart right before my eyes.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.29.14 AMI’m enjoying where Ani Bezzerides’ arc is headed. She’s got to go in to a party where they won’t allow even a purse, so Ani and her knives won’t be headed inside. What interests me is that sexuality is a whole struggle for Ani. It’s because she works in such a macho, predominantly male environment in the police department. She has been railroaded into a sexual harassment therapy group where the men mostly just enjoy hearing Ani talk about sex – it’s a hypocritical and nonsensical punishment from the patriarchal department. To see her headed towards a situation where she’ll need to play up her sexuality, use that against men, it’s not as easy as it may sound – Ani’s sister Athena (Leven Rambin) is telling her that she’ll need to strip even, and you can see the struggle already on her face hearing this news.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.32.13 AMThings are getting murky murky here in the sixth episode.
When Ani heads to the party – using her sister Athena’s name – we see how deviant and weird everything surrounding Caspere’s murder, the events following, is truly beginning to get. Ani and a ton of other sexed up women are loaded onto a bus, their purses and cellphones taken, and herded like a sheep of cattle to the slaughter.
Behind the bus, both Woodrugh and Velcoro tail a ways back to try and cover Ani. They even rush in, as Woodrugh chokes a guard outside, both clad in black gear. Loving their little undercover type task force, it’s making things get more exciting especially with this episode.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.32.48 AMFrank is still sorting motives out on the Caspere end, trying to track down the hard drive and figure out where things disappeared to after Caspere’s place, as well as who they disappeared with, in what hands. I like how Frank has become a sort of detective in his own right here. Certainly after he and Ray have started butting heads, he has to take some of the burden on himself to figure out what has truly been going on.
Unfortunately for Frank, getting to the bottom of the Mexican side of things is bringing more death and destruction into his life. I keep thinking how Frank seems stuck in that old gangster lifestyle, try and try as he might to get out of that quicksand.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.32.00 AMThe party. Man, oh, man – what can I say about this party? Weird, wild, maybe wondrous? Sure.
Sex, drugs, booze. And of course: food! When you’re having an orgy with about a hundred or more people, you’ve got to have food on hand. People get hungry. Need to keep the energy up for more orgying.
It’s fucked up. Pizzolatto is proving there’s still enough oddity in Season Two of True Detective to keep some of the first season’s hardcore fans interested.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.33.46 AMIt’s scary watching Ani essentially walk into the lion’s den. She has no phone, no weapon, and surrounded by so many old perverts. Creepy stuff to endure at times because YOU KNOW bad things happen at these “parties”. Plus, she spots prominent members of society walking through the rooms – Richard Geldof (C.S. Lee), among others. All the girls are given some drugs to help get them in the mood, keep them going, and Ani feels the effects. This whole time I was so worried about poor Ani – she’s such a strong woman but in this situation her power has basically been stripped completely.
We get a huge glimpse into Ani’s past – she has a major flashback during the party. It actually wowed me for a moment or two, so clear and at the same time brief. There’s most definitely a traumatic assault of some sort in Ani’s past which has ultimately guided her uneasiness and uncomfortable nature with men (we see a bearded man with long hair who claims there’s a unicorn in those woods and at one point leads Ani off in a dreamy shot to an old VW van). I felt terrible for her at this party, wandering around; so many people jerking off and watching others have sex, rooms full of orgies. Nasty, rough stuff!
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.34.18 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.34.27 AMScreen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.34.43 AMThere is a ton of great stuff going on throughout “Church in Ruins”.
I love how the entire way to the party, as Woodrugh and Velcoro sneak up, when Ani slices and dices a few thugs – there is a great piece of classical music playing. Amazing. This was one of my favourite series of scenes since Season Two stared, it was just so perfectly composed and put together in terms of how the camera moved, the scenes changed, the music played over top. It made that whole finale to the episode more exciting than it would’ve been already. Amazing way to amp things up.
At the end of “Church in Ruins”, we see Ani in a rough spot. It’s interesting, but disturbing all the same. Luckily her night of psychological torture brought the detectives some well deserved information.
Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.36.01 AMA lot of plot movement going on here, plus a good deal of character development. I think “Church in Ruins” is the best episode so far in Season Two. I predict a great few revelations, some more excitement and thrill, as well as maybe even a death or two. We’ll see! Such a solid crime drama in my opinion, with plenty of elements to make it a full-on thriller at many times, but I’m sure half the internet would call me an idiot or say I know nothing about television or movies because I like this – whatever.
Tell me what you thought in the comments or hit me up on Twitter: @yernotgoinatdat – we can have a (civil) chat.
Lots of people are disappointed in this season. I am not, whatsoever. It started off a little rocky, and since then it has gotten great, week after week. Despite the naysayers. Let them keep on. The last couple episodes are going to knock my socks off.

Next week’s episode is titled “Black Maps and Motel Rooms”. It’s directed by Daniel Attias. His filmography as director includes episodes of Masters of SexBloodlineThe AmericansRay DonovanHomelandThe Killing, and even 16 episodes of one of my favourite comedies, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Particularly, I’m excited for Attias to do an episode because I love both Bloodline and Ray Donovan, which are both extremely gritty at times.
Stay tuned and we’ll find out how wild things get.

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.