If you fall in love with the clone of your significant other, are you falling in love with your partner all over again? This engaging thought experiment is just one of the striking questions at the core of the dramatic science fiction thriller, Patient 001. The movie does not supply an easy answer for the viewer to latch onto, instead forcing them to consider what they saw and draw their own conclusions.
Josie Kingman’s (Rosie Fellner) husband, Leo (Michael Hayden), gets into a terrible accident and is now a coma. The doctors at The Horus Institue are doing everything they can but believe there is no hope of him ever waking up. Leo and Josie longed for a child, so she consults with fertility specialists and the like, but nothing is viable. That is until Dr. Alec Jameson (Michel Gill) lets her in on a secret.
Jameson has been working on a way to clone people and insert Leo’s DNA into Josie. She accepts, wanting both a family and to keep a part of her husband alive. Due to uncertain variables while in the womb, the child will not be identical, instead he will look more like a cousin or brother. Shortly after Josie gives birth, a miracle happens—Leo wakes up. While he is happy to be reunited with his wife, anytime he goes near the newborn, the child wails uncontrollably, and Leo suffers from intense headaches and visions of which he cannot discern their meaning.
Leo discovers the truth of who the child is and decides the best thing to do is kill the baby. Cut to 23 years later, and the successful architect and his wife are living a very comfortable life; while without children, they are happy. One day, their dog runs away and finds Eddie (Noah Fleiss) hanging out in the woods. Eddie takes a shining to the animal, and they go surfing at a nearby beach. Leo and Josie locate their dog and take him, leaving just a generous check as a finder’s fee for Eddie. Initially angry that random people would take the dog, Eddie learns that is Leo Kingman’s pet.
“…discovers the truth of who the child is and decides the best thing to do is kill the baby.”
Eddie comes to the house to apologize, though Leo is away on business. Josie appreciates the gesture and discovers the boy has a degree in architectural design, inspired by Leo’s work. Josie finds out the boy needs a job, so she hires him to finish a well in the yard, as their usual worker has habitually fallen behind. As Eddie spends more time there, Josie finds herself inexplicably drawn to the young man. Leo returns home, furious that the dognapper, unintentional though it was, is at staying there. As the atmosphere at home becomes more intense, demons from Josie and Leo’s past find their way back, as the truth of who Eddie is comes to light.
Patient 001 is director Katie Fleischer’s feature-length debut and is her first movie in some 15 years. Those two elements combined might seem like a warning, but right from the opening sequence, Fleischer proves any sense of trepidation wrong. It is a minute away from turning to the New Year. Josie is drinking champagne with Leo. However, Leo is lying in the hospital bed, already at The Horus Institue for a decent amount of time. Josie is crying and then climbs atop her husband and has sex with him. It is an opening that might turn some off, but thanks to the directing and writing (the scene is intercut with workers at the medical facility) it works at setting up the desperation and love Josie has for Leo.
Fleischer co-wrote Patient 001 with Jason Dietz, and their dialogue tends to be on the exposition-heavy side of things. However, their creative ambitions easily outweigh any negatives that may cause. The question posed at the start of this review is just one of the complex ideas at play. One’s soul and whether or not it is tangible and can be shared is at the heart of the nightmares plaguing Leo’s waking life. The surreal imagery created to represent this facet of the movie is another feather in the director’s cap.
“…the filmmakers tackle lofty questions about life and the essence of souls…”
For their part, the cast proves capable of delivering these big ideas and intense dramatic turns believably. Noah Fleiss doesn’t enter the picture until a little before the halfway mark, but he is quite impressive. His charisma makes Josie’s quick attraction to the young man understandable, while his physical presence makes for a formidable threat later in the movie. As the doctor who creates the clone, Michel Gill is calm and collected, selling the idea of cloning in a way that makes it believable.
As the lead couple, Rosie Fellner and Michael Hayden are remarkable together. They have excellent chemistry, so their adoration for each other leaps off the screen. Fellner has a tricky role, having to be desperate, in awe, confused, resigned, happy, and then troubled by everything happening around her. She effortlessly pulls off each emotion, crafting a relatable, fully formed character. Hayden conveys the pain and anger of Leo perfectly, so even when he lashes out, the audience understands why and can empathize.
Patient 001 approaches its cloning story with startling originality, is populated with realistic characters, each of whom have compelling arcs, and is directed with a bold, visual style. To top everything off, the filmmakers tackle lofty questions about life and the essence of souls that give the film depth and nuance.
Patient 001 (2019) Directed by Katie Fleischer. Written by Katie Fleischer, Jason Dietz. Starring Rosie Fellner, Noah Fleiss, Michael Hayden, Michel Gill.
9 out of 10 Gummi Bears