With its exploration of human cloning and its consequences, Godsend is a compelling story-until it turns into hackneyed horror at the halfway mark. After that, it degenerates faster than a diseased cell.
Paul (Greg Kinnear) and Jessie Duncan (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) are a sweet couple dedicated to being good parents to their young son, Adam (Cameron Bright). But the day after his eighth birthday, Adam is killed when a car hits him. At the funeral, Paul and Jessie are approached by Dr. Richard Wells (Robert De Niro), an old college professor of Jessie's, who claims he may have the solution to their sorrow: He offers them a chance to clone Adam. Whatever they decide, Paul and Jessie must decide quickly since Dr. Wells informs them that Adam's cells will only be viable for another 72 hours. Their judgment clouded by grief, the couple takes Dr. Wells up on his offer and agrees to break off all ties with friends and family and move to a secluded town in Vermont where the Godsend Institute is located. The procedure works and Paul, Jessie and their son are a perfect family again--until Adam passes the age that the original Adam died. The cloned boy becomes plagued with visions of a boy named Zachery committing horrendous crimes and eventually begins to act them out. Paul and Jessie suspect Dr. Wells is keeping something from them about Adam--and what they discover turns their world upside down.
Kinnear (Stuck on You) is well cast as the unassuming dad and husband, Paul, whose main motivation for going along with the procedure is to see his wife happy again. But although his character has the most substance, Kinnear really isn't given much else to do here besides demand answers from everyone. As his wife Jessie, Romijn-Stamos (The Punisher) gets to cry a lot and look really distressed throughout most of the film, but the scope of her character pretty much stops there. The problem is that while the characters are well defined on paper--Jessie, for example, is a professional photographer and Paul is a high school teacher--the only side the audience gets to see of them is that of the tormented, doting parents. The veteran De Niro (Analyze That), however, adds some oomph to a lineup of otherwise unremarkable performances. His portrayal of Dr. Wells is perfectly balanced: A brilliant yet jittery doctor struggling with his own amorality. But Wells takes a turn in the end that is too hard to swallow, going from respected researcher to candelabra-toting madman. Young Cameron Bright (The Butterfly Effect) wonderfully portrays the two Adams, giving the character(s) just enough continuity without losing their individuality.
Director Nick Hamm's visuals are very overt in Godsend: Scenes before Adam's death are bathed in a soft, warm palette, while the years afterward in the Vermont countryside are brighter and cooler. Adam's skewed visions, meanwhile, are infused with contrast and graininess. But it's a pity Hamm couldn't permeate Mark Bomback's script with the same level of intensity. The story touches on the ethical, moral and legal issues of cloning and does it in a simple way--through Paul and Jessie's grief--so the audience is able to relate to the subject. But what happens to the cloned boy once he passes the lifespan of the original Adam is the film's most terrifying aspect, and rather than deal with it intelligently, the filmmaker opted to make Dr. Wells into a genius-gone-mad and the boy a less threatening and unexciting prototype of Damien from the 1976 Omen. It would have been far more interesting to explore the consequences of the cloned Adam finding out about his true identity, for example, or take it a step further and explore whether the couple would be willing to go through the procedure again if the first one had failed after several years. Now this would have made Godsend more frightening at a Raelian-type level.
Director Nick Hamm could have explored the potentially horrifying and unknown risks involved with cloning technology, but instead turns Godsend into a typical horror pic clone.