DVD Review: Clone / Cert: 15 / Director: Benedek Fliegauf / Screenplay: Benedek Fliegauf / Starring: Eva Green, Matt Smith, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight, Istvan Lenart, Hannah Murray, Natalie Tena / Release Date: May 7th
The cynic in me can’t help thinking that Clone, filmed under its working title of Womb before its co-star Matt Smith recorded his first series on Doctor Who and only now seeing the light of day as he works on his third, has suffered the indignity of a more lurid name-change purely to cash in on Smith’s current TV popularity. Clone shouts sci-fi, Womb… well, I’m not really sure what it shouts if it shouts anything at all. The name-change is only a slight irritation; like recent borderline genre movies such as Take Shelter and Another Earth this is a film which has a Big Idea at its core but uses it to examine very specific human relationship issues rather than to dazzle its audience with its clever visual spectacle. Clone is a very bleak, very powerful movie which, despite the presence of Smith is most definitely not one suitable for Doctor Who’s younger fans.
We would appear to be in some alternative Universe - best not to think about it - where human cloning has been developed to the extent that it’s now fairly common. But it’s not popular. Cloned ‘copies’ are considered to be second-class citizens and they’re routinely shunned and spurned by society’s ‘originals’. Rebecca (Ruby O’Fee) and Tommy (Tristan Christopher) meet as children and become close friends. But their friendship ends when Rebecca’s mother has to relocate to Japan. 12 years later the now-adult Rebecca (Green) returns and embarks on a more intimate relationship with grown-up Tommy (Smith). Unfortunately a tragic accident cuts short their adult romance. But Rebecca can’t and won’t move on and she uses the cloning technology to conceive and ultimately give birth to Tommy’s genetic copy.
Fast-forward twenty years or so (although Green doesn’t look noticeably older) and young Tommy is, not unnaturally, the spitting image of his father. The relationship between Tommy and his mother becomes more complicated as Rebecca tries to hide the truth from Tommy as he fights strange, uncontrollable and inexplicable desires and has to face the disdain of those around him.
Clone is art house cinema flirting with the populist. Filegauf’s script is spartan to say the least and his direction is full of moody, often static long shots. Filmed almost entirely in and around an isolated and rather battered beach house in the middle of nowhere where it’s always bitterly cold, Clone has a strong and individual visual look, suggesting its other-world setting without resorting to tricksy visual flourishes and smart dialogue. But its story, whilst unusual and sometimes even uncomfortable - it eventually crashes right through one huge social taboo - is a pretty straight-forward one, even though its telling demands more of its audience than just passivity. We watch Clone and can’t help but question the morality of the development of the technology the film uses so casually and it asks us to think about what right we have to interfere with nature and what the consequences of that interference might be. It’s probably also about what it means to be human (always as well to throw that one in, just to be on the safe side).
Clone’s not one for action fans - describing its pace as glacial suggests a much faster film than this - and it’s not exactly a laugh riot (although one line of dialogue, where the ‘young’ son-of-Tommy asks his mother if his father has “gone back to his home planet” will raise a smile bearing in mind Smith’s subsequent career trajectory). It is, however, hugely watchable, not least of all because of the outstanding performances of its two leads. Smith is remarkably assured - there’s a kitchen-table sequence in which he’s electrifying in his unpredictability - and Green keeps her kit on in this one which allows her to deliver a focused, intense performance as a woman quietly devastated by grief and then tormented by the steps she’s taken to overcome it.
Arty and yet accessible, Clone is an engrossing and absorbing experience. Never likely to make its way into the multiplex, it deserves to find a quietly appreciative audience when it arrives on DVD. Clone will also be featured as part of the Sci-Fi London Film Festival from 1st to 7th May prior to its DVD/Blu-ray release the following week.