Sunday, January 22, 2023

Film review “Birth/Rebirth”. [Sundance 2023]: Revival horror with a motherhood twist

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Body horror has left its mark Frankenstein, but filmmakers still find inventive ways to weave their seams into something gruesome and unique. Writer/director Laura Moss and co-writer Brendan J. O’Brien introduce motherhood into the equation of birth/rebirth, and invites the audience to question their own assumptions. This tale might be mildly terrifying, but its medical horror is undeniably entertaining.

A morgue technician named Rose (Marin Ireland) enjoys the quiet while working on dead bodies. Unbeknownst to her colleagues, she is obsessed with her research into reviving the dead. Rose is willing to do anything to finally achieve that goal, although now she’s finally met someone who’s just as desperate as she is.

Celie (Judy Reyes) is a maternity nurse who works hard to provide a living for her 6-year-old daughter, Lila (AJ Lister). When she suddenly falls ill and dies, Rose is convinced that the young girl is the perfect candidate to be the first human she brings back from the dead. The paths of the technician and the nurse collide, putting them on an incredibly dangerous path.

The title birth/rebirth is literally being played, especially in the hospital environment. Celie regularly gives birth to babies, while Rose is frequently surrounded by death in the morgue. However, only a few floors separate these two very different environments. Both women are overworked with their responsibilities at work and in their personal lives. Life and death eventually collide when Celie and Rose meet, proving they have more in common than they thought.

Celie is portrayed with her warmth as a hard working mother, while Rose is presented with an off-putting coldness. Lila’s death instills these traits in each other, taking their obsession to an alarming new level. Rose is willing to go to increasingly disconcerting lengths to acquire the resources she needs for her resuscitation research, forcing Celie to sacrifice her moral compass to get her daughter back. However, audiences are already aware that reviving a dead child will never bring the desired success.

All characters in it birth/rebirth Search for meaning in life. Celie, Rose and other hospital workers define their lives by a single goal to which they are fixated, causing them to feel lost when it becomes unattainable. Moss and O’Brien’s script in particular gives Rose a certain depth as the root of her strange passions puts her actions into context. The audience is never asked to excuse their actions, quite the opposite.

Moss carries the initially opposing energies of Celie and Rose in her direction, often establishing a form of framing duality that works in the film’s favour. Ariel Marx’s booming score is persistently eerie, further cementing the dark and somber tone.

Reyes delivers a reliable performance as Celie, landing the character’s emotional beats without overdoing it. But Ireland is the shining star here as the awkwardly stern Rose while injecting just the right amount of camp into her performance. Together they make a worthwhile duo, even if the script doesn’t give their characters the emotional weight they should.

The science in birth/rebirth makes very little sense, by its own logic, to dismiss it as an afterthought. There’s also a stark lack of horror here, instead the emphasis being on a dark, comedic twist on David Cronenberg’s body horror, aimed at those who are most squeamish about all things medical.

re-animator comparisons aside, birth/rebirth throws an amusingly clever turn on motherhood that comes across as a warped moral tale with a touch of humor. Moss goes to some pretty dark thematic places, but she doesn’t let that mar the very intentional tone she was trying to achieve from the start.

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