| May 12, 2004

Okay, by now you’ve heard me say several times that the best horror films reflect society’s (often hidden) anxieties about social issues and technological advancements. The worst–well, they fail to capture the imagination and often become laughable, as they lose faith in their premise and substitute a variety of stock machinations that destroys any sense of credibility. Such is the case of 2004’s Godsend (not to be confused with two previous films by that name).
Here’s what’s depressing about Godsend–it could have been this year’s The Sixth Sense or The Omen or The Exorcist or even Frailty or any other film that has effectively used a young child (usually a boy) as the center of a horrific and disturbing story. In fact, the initial premise of the film is timely, evocative and literally haunting: parents clone their dead child, never telling him, until the child reaches the age the original version died and strange things start happening. This premise has a wealth of story material to work with, subject matter worthy of a dramatic treatment (even a fantastical one such as A.I.). That Godsend’s approach is horror only adds to the possibilities, at least until the film starts going into negative sums because writer Mark Bomback abandons his original idea to throw in over-the-top evil scientist clichés and a plot twist that is so absurd that it becomes laughable. Let’s hope his Die Hard 4 script is better, otherwise Bruce Willis better be running now.
Watching the plot machinations of Godsend got me thinking about some of the good scripts I’ve read recently. And I realized that what often makes them good is that they are simple, and I mean that in a good way — they take a premise and simply follow through on it. 28 Days Later is a great read and a good film; even if you feel it veers off at the end (which I don’t), the last third is a logical, f unexpected, extension of the world set up at the beginning. But scripts like Godsend try to be complex by setting up one premise to start the film and then introducing another one midway through in the hopes of shocking the audience. Godsend’s twist makes very little sense and its most interesting feature is the probably unintentional hint at societal paranoia about same gender couples becoming parents. Rather than staying simple (cloning) the story skips merrily through gene manipulation, the hubris of man, multiple personality, blah, blah, blah, mixed in with director Nick Hamm’s visual metaphors (the burning alter in the church) all of which ultimately make the film feel like camp, and not in a Connie And Carla way.
I would talk about the performances, but I’m sure none of these people want to be reminded that they made this film (Robert De Niro especially). Cameron Bright (as both versions of Adam) comes off the best here, in that creepy child-who-knows-too-much kind of way. His performance is the pivot point that’s strong enough to make a story like this work. Unfortunately, the writers, directors and other actors left him playing by himself.

About the Author:

Josef Steiff Joe Steiff would gladly spend his days and nights watching movies and TV with a little writing on the side. Oh, and teach at Columbia College in Chicago. And maybe play Mass Effect. But sleep gets in the way. He's made a few films. edited Popular Culture and Philosophy volumes on Battlestar Galactica, Anime, Manga and Sherlock Holmes for Open Court Books, wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Independent Filmmaking and is a co-author of Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers.
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