Sundance 2023: BIRTH/REBIRTH is a Feminist Horror Masterwork

Laura Moss’s film is a visceral, heartbreaking take on the lengths a mother will go for their child.

birth/rebirth, which screened in the Midnight program at Sundance, begins with one of the most mind-melting 15 minutes I’ve witnessed in a film recently. It somehow then manages to leverage that into the foundation for 90 minutes of blood-drenched drama.

The debut of Laura Moss feels like a feminist retelling of Re-Animator. Rose (Marin Ireland), a pathologist, has discovered a way to bring back the dead. Her hypothesis is proven with not only the resurrection of her pet pig, but the daughter of a maternity nurse who unexpectedly died of meningitis. When Celie (Judy Reyes) attempts to find the body of her lost daughter Lila (A.J. Lister) that vanished after her death, she uncovers Rose’s work at her apartment. The pair then become the female odd couple of horror, with Rose as the unintentionally funny mad genius and Celie as her good-natured, more socially aware accomplice.

While this film trafficks in the fantastical, it still manages to feel tethered in reality. Rose’s procedure uses a concoction of stem cells from fetal tissue and fluid to regenerate the bodies and minds of her subjects. As the film begins, Rose is simply using her own womb to generate this material. But when she gets an infection from a self-inflicted abortion and is no longer able to conceive, she and Celie—who have both become mothers in some way to Lila—discover they will do anything to maintain the serum keeping the child “alive.” The sacrifice motivates both women and gives the film a heart that cements the ever-looming stakes. They form a grotesque family as they take turns caring for the young, reanimated girl day and night.

Even with its more maternal heart, birth/rebirth delivers the gory goods (a Sundance screening had to be shut down due to audience members feeling queezy) and scares, which only compound the stakes at hand. Moss rather masterfully weaves the foreboding of the conclusion within the story, permeating the film with nearly unbearable dread. birth/rebirth left me gutted, gobsmacked, and in total disbelief; this is easily a testament to not only the director, but the cast, who treats the material with respect, allowing it to take on a life of its own. If you enjoy feminist horror, birth/rebirth will be your next obsession.

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