Heartbreak and body horror intersect in Laura Moss’ Birth/Rebirth, a homage to Frankenstein and David Cronenberg’s visceral nightmares that also puts motherhood—in various senses of the word—under the microscope. It just premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and will stream on Shudder later this year.
Birth/Rebirth begins with a harrowing birth scene (“Baby’s gonna be fine,” a nurse reassures an ailing woman in labor, to which the terrified mother-to-be replies, “What about me?”—and gets no answer) and then introduces us to the characters who will propel the story: dour pathologist Rose (Y: The Last Man’s Marin Ireland) and upbeat nurse Celie (Scrubs’ Judy Reyes). They work at the same hospital but their paths don’t cross until an unimaginable tragedy—the sudden death of Celie’s adorable young daughter, Lila (A.J. Lister). Celie’s anguish evolves into something even more distressing when she discovers that Rose has made off with Lila’s corpse, having realized the little girl is a perfect candidate for an experimental treatment she’s developed. “An experimental treatment... for death,” she explains to Celie, who’s horrified but also delighted to see her beloved child alive again.
Delight turns out to be the reaction Celie settles with, and before long she’s helping Rose keep Lila in the land of the living—drawing on her nursing skills, pilfering medical supplies, and doing whatever it takes to ensure a steady supply of the specific biological tissue necessary for Rose’s miracle serum. Except, don’t call it a “miracle” in front of Rose, who insists her success is due to “good science and hard work over time,” not because of anything supernatural. And the way Birth/Rebirth frames Lila’s resurrection feels like it could actually happen in a way that’s far less fanciful than, say, Dr. Frankenstein stitching together a man out of body parts and zapping him with a lightning strike. However, the act of creating life in such an unnatural way has a similarly negative effect on Rose, who’s already in mad scientist mode when we meet her, and especially Celia, whose judgment more becomes perilously clouded as time goes on.
Ireland and Reyes both give outstanding performances here, bringing nuance and sympathy to two very complicated women entangled together in an incredibly grim situation. They are the main reasons to see Birth/Rebirth, although special props also go to the movie’s prosthetic make-up and special effects departments—their outstandingly realistic work means this is absolutely not a movie for the squeamish.
Birth/Rebirth premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival; it will arrive on Shudder later in 2023.
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