The bodies make sense to morgue technician Rose (Marin Ireland)—people who don’t. Socially awkward Rose, a pathologist at a Bronx hospital, is comfortable with death and almost brash about it. It’s a necessity for the job, but he’s not like other technicians, he puts his hand into the bloody incision that splits the belly of a dying pregnant woman and, with brutal, emotionless efficiency, pulls out what he’s looking for.
Rose has an irresistible urge to create life as a natural result of her comfort with death and her desire to understand and control the human body. Naturally, he takes this in a whimsical way, thus revealing “birth/rebirth,” the shocking, disturbing and ultimately fascinating debut of director and co-writer Laura Moss.
Reaching her goal with determined intent puts Rose in an awkward alliance with her grumpy and anti-professional obstetrician, Celie (Judy Reyes). Gentle, empathetic and intuitive, Celie has dedicated her career to bringing life to the world, and after a personal tragedy, she finds herself in an unconventional relationship with Rose, two women who bond as they work to reach a mysterious end.
Moss’s modern, medical approach to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is coldly terrifying, and there is a decidedly feminist worldview in her approach to motherhood, motherhood, and female bodies that swing uneasily between clinical and sensual. Rose’s relationship with her own body is similar to the way she sees dead bodies in her laboratory: something only functional, something to be used, extracted, harvested. If everyone around him is an example in his experiment, so is he.
What puts Celie into Rose’s twisted orbit is the sudden death of her daughter Lila (AJ Lister) from bacterial meningitis. When Rose gets Lila’s little body, she sees it as an opportunity, not the end of life. Out of her mind with grief, Celie adapts to Rose’s experiment, using biological material from fetal tissue and pregnant women, including Rose herself and the anxious, unaware Emily (Breeda Wool), to bring Lila back to life and keep her alive. .
“birth/rebirth” relies on the disturbing, jarring nature of the material to bring out the inherent horror of this story: the blurring of the lines between life and death, the way Rose treats every person who comes across her path like a cadaver, how she treats it. Celie can easily hurt innocent people when she feels what she wants is more important than anything else. Despite having an eerie, high-contrast look to Rose’s dark basement lair and a stunning presentation of Lisa Forst’s realistically tacky and crimson special makeup effects, Moss doesn’t drink her style to lead the audience. Moss relies on the existential horror of her screenplays, co-written with Brendan J. O’Brien, and performances by veteran actresses Ireland, Reyes and Wool.
It’s a showcase for bravura acting, where Ireland plays Rose as aggressive and contrived for failing to connect with others or even offer normal social interaction. Reyes gracefully conveys Celie’s deep-feeling nature, and then shows how this performance of empathy can be weaponized towards a despicably selfish ending. Wool is heartbreakingly vulnerable in her desire to have a healthy child—though ultimately, that’s what every character in this movie wants, despite their different ways of achieving it.
Moss boldly uses Shelley’s classic story – often regarded as the first horror/science-fiction novel – for radical feminist purposes such as “birth/rebirth”, to explore the creation of life with a daring scientific approach, to separate the concept from the predestined spiritual narrative. above. Moss presents a provocative existential dilemma and reminds us that horror stories have been women’s stories from the beginning, while revealing the complex relationship between life and death with birth and “Frankenstein.”
“birth/rebirth” — 3.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for offensive material and blood, some sexual content, language, and nudity)
Working time: 1:38
How to watch: In theaters August 18