I don’t require horror films to be terribly realistic. I figure the basic fantastic nature of the genre cuts its films some slack. For that matter, some horror films can get by — or at least attain a level of interest — on style alone (I’m one of maybe six people who kind of liked Fear Dot Com just for its imagery). Alas, Godsend has no style to speak of beyond its aping of the central scientific-conspiracy concept common to many David Cronenberg pictures, combined with a bad case of Omen-itis. And as for being realistic … it doesn’t even achieve marginal coherence.
The film’s premise is OK, and even intriguing. Paul (Greg Kinnear) and Jessie Duncan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) lose their son, Adam (Cameron Bright, The Butterfly Effect), in an accident. Enter mysterious medico Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) with an offer to clone the boy. And the Duncans go for this plan (apparently blissfully unaware that Wells is played by the same guy who once portrayed Satan). All goes well — or so it seems — until Adam (still Cameron Bright, but now with a more disconcerting haircut) reaches the age where his first incarnation died. At this point, he starts having night terrors, saying uncomfortable things, drawing pictures of people running from a burning building and fixating on a hatchet in an old, dark outbuilding.
The original idea is fine: What would happen with an identical replica of a person who lived beyond his model’s life span? Unfortunately, the best we get from director Nick Hamm and screenwriter Mark Bomback (there’s a reason his last produced script, The Night Caller, was six years ago) is a collection of basic horror-movie cliches, most of which cheat the viewer — and all of which are toned down so the film could land its precious PG-13 rating. But the biggest cheat of all is the addition of a sinister subplot that completely subverts the only interesting point about the whole underlying concept. That alone might not thoroughly sink Godsend as a series of thrills ‘n’ chills; but when the change of direction still doesn’t afford the film a satisfactory ending, that sure does.
Rumor has it that Hamm shot no less than seven endings for Godsend. If what he settled on here really is the best of the lot, then I sure don’t want to see the other six. As for the movie’s realism, I won’t even consider the question of Wells’ seemingly endless funding, or the fact that Vermont is apparently so remote from the rest of the world that anything can happen there without detection, or the curious case of Adam’s parents keeping an unlocked collection of photos of the boy’s first incarnation for the second one to then chance upon. Instead, I’ll merely present this scenario: A man is koshed on the head with a huge brass candlestick and is left lying in a pool of blood in a blazing inferno, only to reappear none the worse for wear in the next scene, ready to save the day. There’s such a thing as suspension of disbelief, yes — but this crosses over into suspension of intelligence.
Sadly, Hamm does get very near to crafting one great sequence in which all the pieces of the story (absurd though they are) fit together and are intercut with scenes showing a variation on the tale taking place in the present day. Still, it’s not enough to make any difference. And nothing — nothing — can save Godsend from the cardinal sin of being just plain boring.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke