In Tim Disney's (son of Roy) William, professors Julian Reed and Barbara Sullivan hatch a plan (and a romance) to learn more about ancient humans by creating a modern Neanderthal.

"Wouldn't it be great if someone could figure out how to use his DNA to clone a living Neanderthal?" asks Reed (Waleed Zuaiter, The Men Who Stare at Goats) to an auditorium of fawning students who applaud his lecture.

No, Reed. It would not.

William is heavy-handed throughout, yanking viewers through a script burdened by expository lines that too often blow past opportunities to develop characters and instead condense plot points in a single line. At its apex, the heavy-handedness is laughable and literal. It shouldn’t be. The ending piles unbelievable cop-out upon unbelievable cop-out, and for a movie that spends so much time lecturing the viewer, it’s borderline infuriating.

The underused Paul Guilfoyle (CSI) is the university president who too briefly wrestles with the dilemma of such a project. In a single scene, he consults a guy who says only, “As a bioethicist, I find the idea abhorrent.” We’re then spared the “I think this research will benefit us” line from another scientist, but it’s summarized before Guilfoyle decides no.

Reed and Sullivan (Maria Dizza, Orange is the New Black, 13 Reasons Why) decide, screw that, we’re getting pregnant. She’ll carry William. And they’ll get married. In a random Elvis-themed Nevada wedding chapel. Apparently you can thumb your nose at the ethics of your research and impregnate yourself with a Neander-zygote, but you can’t do it if you’re not married.

William is born, complete with a comically overdeveloped brow. When one nurse mouths “What the fuck?” to the other as they take stock of the poor fella, we feel her pain.

Will Brittain (Kong: Skull Island) does a solid job with an identity-confused, late-teens William, but scenes like fighting over meatloaf at the dinner table and the lad’s preternatural camping skills are stunning in their simplicity. Should he go to college or get a job at a hardware store? Seriously.

While the ethics of cloning underpin William’s angst, the film tries to explore broader themes of conformity and societal expectation. But it gets bogged down in relationship issues between Reed and Sullivan that masquerade as character development. We ultimately don’t care about them.
William eventually comes face to face with the body that birthed his DNA. Suddenly, this perceptive, modern Neanderthal moves his head about the body like a confused ape. How did his ancestor die in that bog, he asks the scientist who discovered the body.
“Perhaps he just became trapped in the mire.”
Get it?

+ Guilfoyle; some strong visual ties to the theme
– You might well be angry when you leave

NR, 103 minutes