Director Dan Bush’s latest effort The Reconstruction of William Zero is a sci-fi drama that’s much heavier on the drama than on the sci-fi. It’s a film about loss and the lengths to which we will go to stop feeling grief. It’s a film about the dissolution of marriage and about facing death. It might be unbearably sad if it weren’t so well made.

Conal Byrne plays William, a geneticist and married father who one day wakes from a coma with hardly any memory of his own life. There to help him recover is a man who looks exactly like him and has unique knowledge of William’s life, including the tragedy in his past that led to a split from his wife Jules (Amy Seimetz, A Horrible Way to Die). The more William learns about himself, the more he begins to understand just how special he is — and how valuable he is to outside interests.

As science fiction tropes go, cloning is probably behind only time travel as far as overused concepts go, and while Reconstruction sounds on paper like a movie that’s been made a dozen times already, the execution is what sets it apart. Director Bush (one of the writers and directors of the excellent 2007 horror film The Signal) and star Byrne, who together wrote the screenplay, choose to explore the story on an almost purely emotional level — it’s the rare sci-fi film that leads with its heart, not its head. Like Roy Batty’s speech at the end of Blade Runner writ large, The Reconstruction of William Zero considers not just the “how” of science, but the “how it feels.”

What sells that emotion are the performances, particularly by Conal Byrne (playing several roles but also just one). He has a tricky job — one that could wind up coming off as little more than a stunt — but he finds all of the sadness and the anger and the pathos in the part(s). Amy Seimetz is excellent as his long-suffering wife, but that’s because Amy Seimetz is always excellent. Actors like AJ Bowen and The Walking Dead’s Melissa McBride are on hand to lend the film some genre credibility, but their performances are little more than cameos. It’s primarily Byrne’s show, and he’s more than up to the challenge.

Bush assembles the film like a series of fractured memories, jumping around in the chronology and only slowing revealing element of the narrative as it becomes necessary. Jon Swindall’s photography is beautiful and intimate when need be (though it may be time to retire the convention of characters remembering the past as home movies shot on scratchy 16mm, as most people shoot on video or smart phones these days), cold and unfeeling when the character’s perspective demands it. Ben Lovett’s score is achingly gorgeous as well, adding another layer of melancholy to a film that’s already bruised. Beyond the casting of Amy Seimetz, there are moments when the sum total of elements is reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, only less obtuse. Bush doesn’t want to puzzle us, but instead move us. And move us he does.

The Reconstruction of William Zero sneaks up on you. By taking a familiar genre premise and approaching it sideways, Dan Bush and Conal Byrne have created a science fiction films that demands to be seen not for the concepts it introduces but rather for the humanity it finds in that which is not necessarily human. Though the beats of corporate paranoia are probably one conflict too many, the rest of the movie is all too relatable to anyone who has experienced a loss or felt abandoned. A lot of cerebral sci-fi — particularly indie sci-fi — leaves us scratching our heads. This one leaves us wanting a hug.

Movie Score: 3.5/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.