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Godsend

A Faustian bargain with a few chills and cheap thrills

There are two types of horror flicks: those that attack our senses and tastes by (more or less tastefully) slashing and goring (more or less innocent) victims, and those that attack our minds by creating characters and storylines that creep into our heads and under our skin to give us chills and goose bumps. Godsend does none of the first and little of the latter.

Greg Kinnear plays Paul Duncan, an inner-city high-school biology teacher who is so committed to his beliefs that moving on to a better-paying position in the burbs for him would be "selling out." Not even the pleas by his concerned wife, Jessie (Rebecca Romjin-Stamos) to leave the crime-ridden city in order to raise their son, Adam (newcomer Cameron Bright), in a safer environment can convince Paul to move. Only after the couple loses their eight-year-old son in a freak accident and a scientist, Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), approaches them with an offer they ultimately cannot refuse- to clone Adam and bring him back to life- is Paul willing to compromise his sense of ethics and turn his back on his commitment to inner-city education.

Severing all ties to friends and family, the grief-stricken Duncans move to the small town of Riverton, home of Wells' Godsend fertility clinic, where Wells implants the stem cells carrying the Duncans' dead son's DNA into Jessie's womb and where Adam is raised again. For his parents, Adam's life follows comfortingly familiar patterns. As soon as he turns eight, however, Adam starts changing. Terrified by nightmares in which he is haunted by a kid his age that bears a striking resemblance to his dead brother, Adam starts to turn first against his father, then against his school mates, and finally against his mother. As Adam changes, so does his perception of reality, and he becomes both the prey and the hunter as he assumes the identity of the stalker in his nightmares. Consumed by sporadic mood and personality changes, he gradually becomes his (and his parents') own worst nightmare, leading to his cold-blooded murder of the class bully, and culminating in his desire to kill his mother.

At the outset, British director Nick Hamm and freshman screenwriter Mark Bomback would like to scare us into believing in a story that attempts to raise a myriad of ethical, moral, and legal questions about the hot-button issue of human cloning. And their attempts to create a believable scenario in which we not only accept the film's characters and their dilemmas, but also the premise that we live in a world where human cloning is possible is given credence by Kramer Morgenthau's skillful camera work that creates an intimate, tense atmosphere laden with premonition. As the movie progresses, however, the symbolism and foreshadowing of events becomes a tad overwhelming; as do the sound effects, which intermittently cause viewers to jolt in their seats in an otherwise subdued genre flick.

In the end, what could have become a movie that explores the notion of human identity and subjectivity that is borne out of the ethical and moral dilemma that comes with the Duncans' decision to illicitly clone their child, turns out to be little more than a diabolical plot bio-engineered by a devilishly brilliant scientist who is misguided by his own moral compass. The tension over the pros and cons of human cloning fizzles as we are left with a conclusion that no longer engages you in the issues it set out to raise (yet never fully developed), but leaves me wondering whether we have a new Michael Myers in the making on our hands.