birth/rebirth Plumbs the Depths of a Mother’s Love for Her Child

Courtesy of Shudder. An IFC release.

I’ve been looking forward to birth/rebirth for a little while now. I first heard about it a few months ago, and the plot synopsis alone piqued my interest. Then, when the trailer came out, my excitement for this film went through the roof. It looked fantastic, so I couldn’t wait to check it out. It’s been around the top of my most-anticipated list ever since, and now that I’ve had the chance to see it, I’m happy to say that it’s everything I wanted it to be.

birth/rebirth was directed and co-written by Laura Moss, and it stars Marin Ireland, Judy Reyes, A.J. Lister, and Breeda Wool. It’s a reimagining of the classic Frankenstein story, and it’s about two women, a pathologist named Rose and a nurse named Celie, whose worlds collide after tragedy strikes. Rose is obsessed with trying to reanimate the dead, so when Celie’s young daughter Lila dies unexpectedly, she seizes the opportunity. She botches the girl’s medical records and takes the body home with her, and when Celie shows up at her home looking for answers, the grieving woman finds something she never could’ve imagined.

Lila is unconscious but alive, and Rose is sustaining her with an experimental treatment she’s developed over the years. Naturally, Celie wants to stay in her daughter’s life, so she moves into Rose’s apartment and helps care for the girl. At first, everything seems to be going smoothly, but when the women hit a few roadblocks, they’re forced to ask themselves how far they’re willing to go to keep Lila alive.

A woman looking down
Courtesy of Shudder. An IFC Films release.

Right off the bat, I have to let you know that birth/rebirth is a very slow burn. In fact, up until the last 10-15 minutes or so, there’s practically zero horror in this movie. Sure, there’s some blood and guts (mostly in medical contexts), and there’s one scene that’s slightly horrific. But aside from that, this is basically a drama for the majority of its runtime, so if you’re looking for chills and thrills aplenty, birth/rebirth is not the film for you.

However, if you’re up for a character-driven drama with a horror-centric premise, I think you’re going to love this movie. First and foremost, the two main characters are absolutely fantastic, and they’re driven by great performances. Let’s start with Celie. She’s pretty much everything an on-screen mother should be, and Judy Reyes plays the role to perfection.

When birth/rebirth starts, you can almost see Celie’s love for her daughter emanating from every pore in her body. When she’s with Lila, everything from her tone of voice to her facial expressions to her mannerisms lets you know without a doubt that this little girl is her entire world. That love makes the character super endearing, so you’ll come to care about her very quickly. Then, when tragedy strikes, Reyes does a complete 180, and she gives one of the best portrayals of grief I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, and it’ll make you sympathize with this woman even more.

On the flip side, Rose is a cold, unloving person who only cares about her work, and Marin Ireland totally nails that vibe. She does everything in a very business-like manner, so at times, you might even wonder if she has any emotions at all. For example, there’s a scene where she takes a man into a public bathroom to perform a sex act with him, but she gets no pleasure from the encounter. She’s just there to collect the guy’s semen for her experiments, so she goes about the act with the clinical indifference of a doctor performing a routine medical procedure.

A woman looking surprised
Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

When Celie forces her way into Rose’s life, the emphasis switches from the characters’ contrasting personalities to their conflicting philosophies. Rose sees Lila as little more than a test subject, and she has no qualms about using other people to get what she needs to keep the girl alive. Conversely, Celie believes that her daughter is more than just an experiment, and she takes issue with the way Rose treats others.

The contrast between these two women is fascinating, and it raises the age-old question of how far a mother would go to save her child. Admittedly, we’ve seen that idea a million times before, but in my opinion, it never gets old. I love this ethical conundrum, and birth/rebirth puts a unique spin on it. This time, it’s not the mother who’s willing to do anything to help the kid. Instead, it’s the other woman, and that allows the film to really hone in on an important truth about human dignity: it’s never okay to use another person as a mere means to an end. Rather, people are ends in themselves, and they should be loved, not used.

Last but not least, let’s talk a bit about the ending of birth/rebirth. As I said, this part of the movie finally gives us the horror we’ve been waiting for, but without spoiling anything, it’s not quite what you might be expecting. The horror is more subtle than your typical Frankenstein finale, and in my opinion, it’s the exact right choice. While I would’ve been fine if the last few minutes of the film had gone all-out on the violence, I think this ending fits the story much better. It feels like a natural progression from everything that came before it, and it cements the movie’s message in a hard-hitting way.

So if you’re looking for something good to watch, I highly recommend that you check out birth/rebirth. Granted, this film isn’t going to be for everyone, but if it sounds like something you’d enjoy, I think you’ll love it. It has great characters fueled by great performances and a fantastic message about a fascinating moral dilemma, so I already can’t wait to watch it again.

birth/rebirth is playing in select theaters right now.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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