Life is wonderful for happy couple Paul (Greg Kinnear) and Jessica (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) Duncan at the beginning of “Godsend”. He’s a high school teacher and she’s a photographer, and we first see them celebrating the 8th birthday of their son Adam (Cameron Bright). In one of those movie accidents that transpires more out of a cinematic need to set a story in motion than out of responsible and realistic behavior, Adam is killed in a traffic accident the next morning.
In creepy fashion and out of deepest left field, a mysterious scientist, Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), later approaches them at a cemetery while they’re planning their son’s funeral. He has illegally developed a technique where he can replicate a stem cell to create an identical foetus, which is to say, he offers to clone their son back to life.
The grief-stricken parents finally accept, although Paul does so very reluctantly. “You’d be gambling on me as much as I’d be gambling on you”, Wells says to them. Now I don’t know about you people, but this is exactly the kind of sentence that would make me think twice, then think some more. A human life is not exactly something that should bring forth discussions sounding like businessmen negotiating a merger.
Without revealing too much of the nonsensical developments that ensue, it centers on the “new” Adam experiencing violent nightmares after he passes the age at which he died. As Wells puts it, they have entered “uncharted territory” at that point. De Niro speaks most of his lines with his voice at half-volume, in a subdued tone that suggests he could just as well be talking about the stock market, which makes his character’s transformation near the end all the more jarring. There’s also something about a child’s drawing with a history (yeah, another one of those), a Sixth Sense-like ability to connect with the dead and a lot of worrying about cells somehow remembering a previous life. It alls creates a very underwhelming horror movie, feebly evoking “The Omen”, that allows little time to the extremely serious moral implications of its controversial premise.
Elements of the story are totally preposterous, most notably this secret, remote community where Dr. Wells runs the Godsend Institute and where Paul and Jessica had to relocate after accepting the cloning procedure. Who are the people living there or working for Wells, refugees from a new kind of witness protection program? Director Nick Hamm fails to build any sense of impending doom, and some scenes are allowed to drag on twice longer than they should while others will just bring question marks in the minds of the audience.
Kinnear and Romjin-Stamos nonetheless turn in solid performances worthy of a sharper script, and there’s an emotionally strong moment early on where Jessica, in the depths of the pain of losing her son, says that she doesn’t want another child, what she wants is the only one she had back.
The puzzling chain of events in the last 20 minutes or so is capped by a noncommittal ending that doesn’t really address anything. Some might agree with me that an earlier ending, just moments before the actual one, would have raised obvious questions but at least would have been more faithful to the direction the film had taken.
There is one line De Niro says with great conviction. After Paul angrily confronts him and threatens to “go public” with what he has done to Adam, Dr. Wells replies, with fire in his eyes: “What we have done…what we’ve done.” Food for thought.
Review by Jean-François Tremblay