Birth/Rebirth (Sundance) Review

Judy Reyes is phenomenal as a bereaved mother who discovers her daughter has been revived by a cold pathologist (Marin Ireland).

REASON: A mortuary technician has successfully revived a little girl’s body, but in order to keep breathing, she will have to harvest biological materials from pregnant women. When the girl’s mother (Judy Reyes), a nurse (Marin Ireland), discovers her baby alive, they make a deal that forces them both down a dark path of no return.

REVIEW: Any movie about the death of a child makes for a tough watch and Birth/rebirth is definitely no walk in the park. There were moments when my mouth was in shock. But between the wonderful performances and great direction, it’s a movie that will leave you enthralled from start to finish.

The story is about a mother who loses her daughter and discovers that the morgue worker has somehow raised her from the dead. The concept could easily have seemed silly or unbelievable in less skilled hands. Yet the film always remains grounded and never goes overboard with its approach. I’ve seen a lot of people call this a reimagining of Frankenstein, and I suspect any story about raising the dead will come with that comparison. But I felt that Birth/Rebirth really carved out its own identity and rarely evoked anything like the lumbering monster from Mary Shelley’s novel.

I really enjoyed the cold Marine Ireland‘s pathologist character. She is a broken woman who sees the world from a clinical perspective. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by how this woman lives and interacts with the world. She has such a scientific approach to everything. So much so that she is numb to almost all emotions. At one point she was called a “mad scientist princess bitch” and it couldn’t be more appropriate. This is a role that few people could have played without making the character seem evil.

I will always love Judy Reyes because of Scrubs where she rocked it as nurse Carla Espinosa, but her nurse role here is completely different. Considerably less light-hearted, it was easy to relate to her character and struggles. And it helps that she is absolutely phenomenal and seizes every moment. You can feel absolutely everything through her eyes. The sheer desperation and hopelessness of knowing her daughter is gone, only to get a glimpse of her life back when she sees her again. It’s really heartbreaking. And then to see the choices she’s left with at the end? This is Reyes’ movie and she knocks it out of the park.

Suppose you’re worried that the proceedings are far more Cronenberg for your liking: don’t be. That’s not to say the film doesn’t deal with scenes that are hard to watch. But it’s less about how graphic they are and more about the weight of the scene. There is violence, yet it is handled tastefully. Director Laura Moss knows how much to show and never goes overboard. It is hard not to be impressed by her vision and the space she allows the actors to perform.

I can only imagine how difficult this movie will be for some parents to watch. Without children, I still found it harrowing and emotional. Even still, the topic will make you ask uncomfortable questions. And I feel that some of the most thought-provoking films can take viewers to those places. The performances from Reyes and Ireland deserve all the praise in the world. And I think Moss is going to be a name we’re going to see a lot in the years to come. Birth/rebirth gives more than rough veil. It’s a moral dilemma that will have you squirming throughout. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait for more audiences to see it when it comes out on Shudder later this year.

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