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Birth/Rebirth

Shudder, 2023

Director/Writer/Creator:

Laura Moss

Reading Time:

6 minutes

Birth/RebirthThe Great Beyond (ZZZSS9HONAADPC4R)
00:00 / 05:42

📷 : Pixabay

Birth/Rebirth

Yarrow:

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Movies and TV shows about illness or set in hospitals or similar medical institutions

Dandelion:

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Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects

Chris Chaisson

2023-09-04

Zombie apocalypse movies and TV shows have experienced much success over the last couple of decades. While they have compelling action sequences and allow us to ponder how we would survive in such a universe, these works rarely present the undead as anything other than collateral. Most of the time, the main characters do not spend much time dwelling on the fact that the creatures used to be real people who meant something to their friends and family. It would therefore be refreshing to see a more individual, character-focused story of a revived being, and what sort of desperate actions a loved one would do to keep them alive again. Director Laura Moss’s debut feature Birth/Rebirth presents just such a story.


Birth/Rebirth follows Celia (Judy Reyes, Scrubs) and Rose (Marin Ireland, Hell or High Water), a maternity nurse and a pathologist, respectively, thrust together when Celia’s 6-year-old daughter Lila unexpectedly passes. What appears to be a mix-up prevents Celia from seeing the body and making funeral arrangements. Needing closure, Celia tracks down Rose and discovers that she has taken Lila’s body to her apartment and is attempting to re-generate it with her makeshift medical equipment. Celia moves past her initial shock and joins the effort to keep her daughter alive. As new issues arise, Celia and Rose discover what lengths they will go to in order to accomplish reviving Lila.


The synopsis of this new Shudder original lends itself to comparisons with Frankenstein. However, Birth/Rebirth offers a more emotional angle that makes its leads seem more like empathetic characters rather than mad scientists. Celia not only grieves the loss of her daughter but suffers immeasurable guilt from being too overworked to pay proper attention to Lila’s illness. Though her first reaction to what Rose is doing is disbelief and possible disapproval, Celia changes her tone and views Lila’s revival as a chance at redemption. The themes of motherhood and the need to protect one’s child at all costs comes through in her subsequent actions. To highlight this, the film depicts Celia as the only parent, having birthed Lila through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). While it could have been easy to write the father out of the picture in a number of ways, this particular method feels important, as it puts the focus entirely on a mother-daughter relationship and not the failings of an absentee parent.


Rose’s differing intentions, despite having the same goal, lay the foundation for much of the film’s conflict. Unlike Celia, who has considerably more social skills and interdependence, Rose clearly does not like or desire human interaction. She perceives those around her more as potential subjects than human beings. Her emotional detachment comes through early in the film during an interaction with a barfly, with whom she engages in a sexual act simply for a sample of his sperm. Ultimately, the effort she puts into reviving Lila stems from her own preceding scientific experiments more than any need to reunite a mother and daughter. As the film progresses, the audience learns of the deep-seated trauma that influences Rose’s demeanor and motives.


While the film does not have the jump scares, indiscriminate killing and other typical tropes of a sci-fi horror film, Birth/Rebirth’s scare factor does benefit from exceptional sound design. Between sound supervisor Bryan Parker, composer Ariel Marx, and sound editor Doug Moss, director Laura Moss’s brother, the film’s audio consistently creates unease in the viewer and highlights the uncomfortable nature of the co-leads’ decision-making. The noises both in the music and in the background of any given scene complement the visuals in making the audience feel that they are in a hospital room at all times. Such sounds include struggling to breathe, the beeping of machines, and the random creaking and thumping that exist in many other horror movies. While these sounds tend to be associated with life or an unwelcome presence, Birth/Rebirth uses them to signify the battle for continued life.


Much of the horror that the film provides is in its morbid realities. Though there is a little bit of pseudo-science and some supernatural elements to make the story come together, a big takeaway from the film is how much our well-being rests on the assumed integrity of medical professionals. Were they to have ulterior motives, any civilian could have their health severely compromised with possibly no repercussions. Additionally, as we see with Celia’s behavior early in the movie and at times later on, many nurses are profusely overworked and hanging on for dear life. Between the volume of patients and long shifts that she and Rose contend with, it becomes clear that they are susceptible to both honest mistakes and malicious intentions that serve their own agendas.


Frankenstein may be the easiest comparison to Birth/Rebirth, but a more recent similar film would be the 2014 sci-fi drama Ex Machina. In the critically acclaimed Alex Garland film, a young programmer is invited to partake in an experiment at a remote location where he evaluates the human qualities of a robot with artificial intelligence. Upon arrival, he experiences strange behavior from both the anti-social CEO, the only other person there, and the robot itself, Ava. The programmer must get to the bottom of what is going on before the situation turns deadly. While Birth/Rebirth has less of a hi-tech feel to its aesthetic and a revived human subject rather than a robot, both have a clash of personality between their co-leads and question what it really means to be fully human.

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