Birth/Rebirth The Guts will grab you with its mercilessly scary opening sequence. Director Laura Moss’ feature isn’t just tackling a gruesome story Frankenstein-motivational story. His Sundance stunner doesn’t just have body horror with unflinching factual content. This is how the opening nicely illustrates the all-too-common fear that has arisen in this age of Roe v. Wade canceled.
Birth/Rebirth It starts at dusk, with only the blip of an ambulance siren. He hears the dulled chatter of the paramedics entering, then the muffled sound of a gasp. A woman wakes up with an oxygen mask forced over her face. Moss mercifully puts us in the POV of the terrified patient as she watches helplessly as surgeons with bloody hands carve out her abdomen.
“Your baby will be fine. I promise,” insists a well-meaning surgeon. In a weak voice, this unseen woman asks, “What about me?” But she is forgotten as the hospital staff rush to rescue the fetus from her womb. The focus of the POV camera blurs as she does. Then the camera shakes violently, showing how her body seizes, loses grip and dies. Finally, the camera cold cuts to her exposed body, still sliced open from surgery and resolutely placed on a morgue slab, ready to remove her organs for donation.
Here is laid out, grimly and effectively, the fear of those who are alone, that we are not seen as people at the Supreme Court but as a vessel for a little stranger. Being a mother means sacrificing your body, your free time, your ambition, and maybe even your right to live. But this is only the beginning of the terror of motherhood that Moss spawned in Birth/Rebirth.
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What is Birth/Rebirth about?
Judy Reyes and Marin Ireland in “Breith/Rebirth”
Forget the dead mother on the slab. Birth/RebirthThe focus of the mothers quickly shifts to the mothers coping with their bodies and surviving baby. Celie (Judy Reyes), a nurse in her hospital’s obstetrics unit, is warm to patients, friends, and her playful daughter Lila (AJ Lister). Her introduction shows her gently stroking the foot of the newborn as she lies in an incubator, unaware of the loss of a mother she will never know. Then there’s Rose (Marin Ireland), the morgue technician who photographs the remains and drops her hands into the open cavity of her throat with a blank expression.
At the beginning of this story, they are strangers. Slowly but surely, they become distant Odd Couple, polar opposites that create a mercurial friendship in a shared apartment. But the reason is pure Frankenstein, connecting the women through sci-fi horror motherhood.
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You see, when little Lila dies suddenly, the calculated and cold Rose steals her remains, then resurrects her with an experimental treatment. Discovering this shocking miracle, Celie dedicates herself to her child, and by extension to Rose and the success of the experiment. But there is a terrible cost that keeps this kid kind of alive.
Birth/Rebirth not for the faint of heart.
Marin Ireland gives us a chill, and it’s all in “Birth/Rebirth”
But that’s appropriate, because — as I understand it — neither is motherhood. And this film is deeply rooted in the fear of what it means to be a mother. Celie and Rose must face all kinds of terrifying challenges to keep the revived Lila alive. They have to be patient as she hits weird milestones or acts out in a way that could cause a baby to die.
Body horror sets in as Rose’s science experiment goes awry. And Moss’s approach doesn’t tease out wounds, staples, blood, and the kind of pulpy mess that menstruators are well known for. But then there are also simple, moving shots, like a mother carrying her dead child’s clothes in a ziplock bag on a hospital elevator, returning to a quiet and empty house. In such calmness, we are welcomed in Celie’s pain like a warm bath, without understanding what lies within these waters.
A sneaky soundtrack breaks our nerves, as groans, low shrieks, and soft clangs – reminiscent of distant metal – create a chilling atmosphere in the sense of sterility. To Celie’s passionate glare and powerful declarations of love and duty, Rose is charmingly, ruthlessly logical and cold. She delivers a handjob in a bathroom with the same dead look in her eyes as when she photographed a cadaver at work. But beneath this icy exterior, her heart begins to glow as she and Celie grow closer.
Amidst the physical horror, the horror of the mother, and the treacherous trespass of these mothers tromp in, Birth/Rebirth stuns with his macabre sense of humor. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny. It’s the kind of funny you get at a funeral. It is the chaotic collision that occurs when honesty breaks the face of civilization. So, a line as simple as “I have a futon” made me laugh darkly. In context, it’s funny because of the flatness of Rose’s delivery, the reaction in Celie’s tear-swollen eyes, and the logic that splats between them like a blood clot. It’s the kind of dark humor that will make some people cringe and others feel like they’ve just received an adrenaline injection.
Birth/Rebirth It’s a scorching directorial debut.
It goes without saying that this is Moss’ feature directorial debut, because it’s that good. The production designer-turned-director has crafted a film that is ruthlessly dense, minutely detailed and terrifyingly terrifying. She took a piece of Mary Shelley and brought it to life with a flash of lightning from the war for bodily independence. But inside a clever concept – with the added oomph of a disturbing revelation – Moss has also put together a story of great female friendship.
Her incredible cast draws us in with their high-contrast heroines, with Reyes and Éire giving performances that are still electrifyingly grounded. Part of what gives us the rest of the film is goosebumps that make these women feel real. Within all of that is a wickedly comic ribbon that realizes that there is something wild, in sorrow, pain, panic and love, that cannot be tamed. And then, when so many clever horrors fail to stick the landing, Moss’s film ends exactly where it should, leaving us gasping — even though we might be hungry for more.
Simply put, Birth/Rebirth This is a unique vision of horror, and Moss is a director to watch. Keep an eye out for both.
Birth/Rebirth made its World Premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival(Opens in a new window). Shudder’s release is TBD.