Combustible Celluloid Review - Birth/Rebirth (2023), Laura Moss, Brendan O'Brien, Laura Moss, Marin Ireland, Judy Reyes, A.J. Lister, Breeda Wool
Combustible Celluloid
With: Marin Ireland, Judy Reyes, A.J. Lister, Breeda Wool
Written by: Laura Moss, Brendan O'Brien
Directed by: Laura Moss
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing material and gore, some sexual content, language and nudity
Running Time: 98
Date: 08/18/2023

Birth/Rebirth (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Reportedly inspired by Frankenstein, the astonishing horror-drama Birth/Rebirth gives Mary Shelley's monstrous themes a fresh, feminist twist, taking motherhood and womanhood to mind-blowing extremes.

Overworked nurse and single mother Celie (Judy Reyes) drops her young daughter Lila (A.J. Lister) with a neighbor when the child is not feeling well enough to go to school. Later she learns that Lila has been taken to the hospital, but when Celie gets there, it's too late. Lila is gone, succumbed to bacterial meningitis.

Celie approaches morgue technician Rose (Marin Ireland) about seeing her body, but is given a suspicious answer. Celie finds Rose's apartment and — to her astonishment — discovers Lila inside, now alive. Rose has been using fetal tissue to create a serum that can bring the dead back to life. Celie immediately moves in with Rose to help care for Lila, who doesn't quite seem like herself.

But when Rose suffers an accident, the women must find another source for their serum, or lose Lila again forever.

A feature directing debut by Laura Moss (who identifies as non-binary) — and co-written by Moss and Brendan J. O'Brien — Birth/Rebirth moves with incredible confidence, conjuring genuine shocks and inducing squirms, but also focusing on quiet, character-driven moments.

Ireland's Rose (an ironic name?) is severe and humorless, while Reyes's Celie is warm and maternal. Even though they're polar opposites, they somehow fit together, bound by their mutual desire to see Lila thrive.

Yet they are more than just that; Moss includes small, almost needless moments that break them out of their narrow character descriptions, casting doubt on their motivations, making them more dimensional and human. The movie's dark, icky visual design likewise calls up a sense of dread (aided by the presence of an undead pig); there's nothing life-giving about this laboratory.

In her supporting role, Breeda Wool gives a touching performance and adds more layers as an expecting mother who arouses the interest of Celie and Rose.

Birth/Rebirth is a brilliant movie that, like the Frankenstein story, deserves deeper deconstruction (without, of course giving away its surprises).

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