Minor spoilers ahead
When is a horror movie not a horror movie? When it’s a strained, by-the-numbers production that limps to an unlikely conclusion like “Godsend,” the latest in a series of quote-unquote horror flicks that offer much in the way of cheap “reach out and grab you” frights and little in terms of originality or genuine scares.
The film starts out asking the question, “What would happen if you could bring a deceased loved one back to life?” The recently departed in this case is Adam Duncan (Cameron Bright), the 8-year old son of Paul (Greg Kinnear) and Jessie (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), who departs this earthly realm courtesy of a wayward automobile. After the funeral, the Duncans are approached by an old professor of Jessie’s, Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), who offers the grieving couple the possibility that they can get their son back using his DNA to implant a genetically identical embryo in Jessie’s uterus. The Duncans, whom we’re told are unable to conceive naturally due to some complications during Adam’s birth, grudgingly agree.
I guess neither Mom nor Dad ever read Pet Semetary, or watched “Jurassic Park,” for that matter. In all fairness, both Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos are perfectly believable as parents so devastated by their loss they’re willing to consider such an illegal and, arguably, unethical proposition. Their grief is evidently also sufficient enough to make them ignore the fact they’ll have to live the rest of their lives in the township run by Wells’ Godsend Institute, for fear of discovery. Of course, all of this is forgotten when Jessie successfully gives birth to Adam II. As the boy grows older, he seems identical in every way to his genetic twin.
Of course, some warning signs appear: Adam seems to have an unhealthy fixation on Dr. Wells, and he’s taken to spitting on his teachers. And those mysterious hallucinations – depicting murders most foul and a school burning down – can’t be good. Before long, Paul is growing increasingly suspicious of both his son and the good doctor, and starts sniffing around. What he discovers will, quite frankly, not make a lick of sense.
Director Nick Hamm reportedly shot a number of different endings for “Godsend” after the film was moved from its original October, 2003 release date. The film’s lack of focus on a coherent endpoint makes “Godsend” all the more frustrating as it unspools. Adam’s hallucinations hint at any number of grim possibilities, but by the time Paul discovers the Terrible Truth, you no longer care. Worse, all of our questions to that point are tied up in a pretty, pink bow by the character in all sub-standard horror movies who conveniently steps forward to explain everything. Here, it’s a former day care worker who has some interesting info about the school Adam keeps seeing in his visions. You’ll spot the patented twist coming a mile away, which only makes you wonder why everyone involved didn’t do a little more research before plunging forward with the experiment.
One thing “Godsend” does right is its continuation of Hollywood’s scaremongering tradition when it comes to science. From nuclear power to space travel to the internet, studios can always be counted on to seize upon the latest technological advances and present them to us in the most inaccurate and inflammatory way possible. In this respect, “Godsend” is quite successful.
The talents of most of the cast are wasted here. Kinnear proves that As Good As it Gets and Auto Focus were no flukes, and De Niro…well, he’s De Niro: good, but in a role that requires little actual stretching. More impressive is Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who sells both grief and dread in convincing fashion. Cameron Bright does a nice reptilian stare, but I’m afraid he’s doomed to play similarly creepy roles from here on out.
Hamm cut a good deal of sex and gore (assumedly from the original ending) in order to garner a PG-13 rating. Big mistake. If horror audiences can’t be scared, they at least want to be juiced up with some decent kill shots. Sadly, “Godsend” disappoints on all those counts.
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