By Steven G. Kellman
It is a dark and stormy night at the beginning of Godsend, a horror film whose ambiguous title suggests both divine beneficence and the death of the deity. On his way home alone through seedy urban streets, Paul Duncan (Kinnear) is accosted by two muggers. Before they can rob or knife him, one of the thugs recognizes Paul as a former teacher. Paul must have given the fellow an A, because the bandit apologizes to his intended victim and lets him go, unscathed. Such student-teacher amity belies the need for inner-city schools to install metal detectors.
And the household to which Paul returns defies statistics on abuse, divorce, and dysfunction. In fact, the Duncans are about as perfect a nuclear family as can be found on any screen since Robert Young grew old. Paul and his wife Jessie (Romijn-Stamos), a professional photographer, adore each other and dote on their only child, Adam. Yet many frames before it happens, viewers are cued to expect that Adam's Eden will be shattered. The day after a joyous celebration of his eighth birthday, Adam is killed by a wayward car. The parents are inconsolable. "I don't want another child," Jessie tells Paul. "I want him back." As fate, and the script, would have it, a swarthy stranger who shows up at the cemetery offers them a deal to get their dead boy back.
In the 1994 film that was called Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (but was really director Kenneth Branagh's), Robert De Niro portrayed the famous monster. But here he is the obsessed scientist, a brilliant medical researcher named Richard Wells who has perfected the techniques of human cloning. At his Godsend Institute located in a bucolic rural setting 300 miles away, Wells secretly and illegally implants DNA from Adam's corpse in Jessie and induces a new pregnancy. Adam is born again, and the Duncans are restored to happiness in a rambling lakeside house that seems designed for haunting. But when the new Adam turns eight, terrible things begin to happen.
As Adam, Cameron Bright sports the impassive face and bright blue eyes that could signal either godsend or God's end. Hokey, spooky music and manipulative camera angles signal twists to the plot a lot earlier than they should. The denouement of Godsend depends on the preposterous premise that genes retain and transmit specific memories, as if the child of Kenneth Lay's tax accountant would inherit knowledge of how much he deducted for charitable donations in 1973. It takes a trained geneticist to appreciate the full horror of Godsend. •