There’s a reason why artists of all stripes have repeatedly come back to Frankenstein over the years. At the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, a new take on the story in Birth/Rebirth is here to capture your attention. There’s enough horror elements here to also make it a Sunday Scaries installment (the rare review edition, too), though this isn’t necessarily a straight genre play. It’s going for several elements, more of which are compelling than not.
Birth/Rebirth is the body horror and female-centric version of the classic monster tale. While not all of it works, the central premise hooks you in. Even though you’ll be able to guess most of what’s about to happen, watching it actually go down is gnarly and undeniably effective.
Rose (Marin Ireland) is a morgue technician with a particularly strange side project. She’s working on a cure for death. Celie (Judy Reyes) is a nurse who never has time, but is trying to raise her daughter Lila (A.J. Lister). When tragedy strikes, Celie is shattered, but Rose senses an opportunity. Eventually, the former discovers what the latter is up to, and that her child has led to a breakthrough. Rose has managed to reanimated the dead, though that’s just the start of her research.
Entering into a deal, the women take care of the little girl. Unfortunately, she requires them to harvest biological materials from pregnant women, which proves intense and stressful. The longer it goes on, the more both of them are pushed in directions that they’d never expect.
The duo of Marin Ireland and Judy Reyes are a lot of why this works. Ireland is an impeccable ice queen, while Reyes handles the emotions of grief with aplomb. They’re both equally effective in character moments as they are when the blood and guts get incorporated. In addition to A.J. Lister, the supporting players also include Breeda Wool, but Ireland and Reyes are the highlights.
Co-writer/director Laura Moss, along with writer Brendan J. O’Brien, don’t shy away from the Frankenstein trappings of the project. It limits a bit of the creativity, especially with some of the moments that are meant to be surprising, but they take everything seriously enough that you buy into the premise. The pacing could be a little tighter, but Moss and O’Brien deserve credit for not taking half measures here, in the slightest.
Birth/Rebirth has just enough to offer in order to warrant a mild recommendation. As long as you keep your horror expectations in check, you should be able to enjoy what’s being depicted here. It’s hardly one of the highlights from Sundance this year, but it’s not the sort of forgettable fare that gets lost among the fest, either.