Director: Laura Moss
Starring: Marin Ireland, Judy Reyes, A.J. Lister, Breeda Wool, LaChanze
Very loosely based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Laura Moss’ first feature Birth/Rebirth posits the duality of life and creation with motherhood in such a way that it begs the question - how has this not been adequately presented before now? Had it done, it would have had to go some way to be more effective and thought-provoking than Moss’ chilling and complex horror drama.
The basic premise of the film is that Marin Ireland’s Rose, a pallid and socially awkward morgue technician, successfully reanimates the body of the recently deceased child Lila (Lister) which brings some success to her years of attempting to scientifically alter nature and existence. Lila’s mother Celie (Reyes), a maternity nurse working at the same hospital as Rose eventually discovers the reason behind the disappearance of her daughter's cadaver leading to an undertaking that threatens to destroy every moral, ethical, and natural boundary.
"Expertly marries both its narrative and visual aesthetic into one grimy blend to create a strikingly effective effort that forces its viewer to ponder the questionable acts the two leads partake in."
To go further would be to reveal and spoil the twists and turns that the narrative takes as it leads to its shocking final scene. Birth/Rebirth takes its tough subject matter and injects it with unflinchingly graphic scenes, grisly visuals, and the least appealing bathroom sex act put to screen in years. It’s a film that expertly marries both its narrative and visual aesthetic into one grimy blend to create a strikingly effective effort that forces its viewer to ponder the questionable acts the two leads partake in. Both Ireland and Reyes are extremely good in their polar-opposite roles, Ireland, especially as the offbeat near-genius willing to do awful things to herself in order to further her wild research - though as the film goes on, both sow their willingness to…go there.
Whilst very much a horror film, Birth/Rebirth leans into dramatic territory just as much and provides us with ample time to view our leads, to understand their motivations (or try to), and allow the several themes to loom large over the film and the mind of the viewer which, it turns out, is possibly more frightening than any of the on-screen nastiness or gore. Though, whilst we are afforded plenty of time to sit with the messages of mortality, it would have added further heft to the film had the central issue - i.e. the resurrection - been treated as something, well, frankly terrifying and groundbreaking. By this, I mean more in how the characters react to it, especially Reyes’ Celie…
Just as unnerving is the length Moss goes to present a realistic and grounded approach to the story, which could have veered into sci-fi zaniness (and thank god it doesn’t). Rose herself mentions throughout that her work does not constitute a miracle, but more the result of good science and there’s a strange believability throughout the entirety of the film which is a testament to the strong direction from Moss.
Simultaneously intelligent and genuinely chilling, Birth/Rebirth delves into the notion of playing (or eclipsing) God and motherhood with firm confidence and delivers one of 2023’s strongest and most thought-provoking horror films.
August 4th 2023