Birth/Rebirth review | Laura Moss’ debut digs into the horror of motherhood

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First-time director Laura Moss tackles the physicality of motherhood in a Frankenstein-inspired horror. Here’s our Birth/Rebirth review. 

Birth/Rebirth, Laura Moss’ feature directorial debut, has one of the most horrifying, striking opening sequences I’ve seen in a film. In it, we’re forced into the perspective of a pregnant woman in distress. A surgeon tries to assure her that everything will be fine for her baby, who’s dug out of her body. 

“What about me?” she asks weakly. Moments later, she’s dead on mortician Rose’s (Marin Ireland) table. 

There’s something incredibly exciting about the refusal to water down the fright factor of childbirth and motherhood present in Birth/Rebirth. This is a deeply disturbing film, on many levels. Moss demonstrates exhilarating courage as a director tackling such a difficult subject. 

birth rebirth
Credit: Universal Pictures

After that thrilling opening, the film jumps to Celie (Judy Reyes), a nurse at the same hospital Rose works at. Celie has a young daughter, Lila (AJ Lister), who contacts bacterial meningitis and is also taken to Rose. With such a fresh, young body on her table, Rose sees an unprecedented opportunity and takes the body home to reanimate. 

Celie, devastated that her daughter’s body has gone missing, traces her back to Rose and finds her daughter in Rose’s apartment. The women begin to work together to keep Lila alive, but life after death comes at a cost. 

Thematically, there’s a lot going on in Birth/Rebirth. Moss navigates the themes with admirable confidence, but the film’s pacing is a tad slow. It’s a film that has more going on if you read between the lines, but the action on screen fails to be as engaging and interesting as what’s being suggested. 

Much of the film relies on the dynamic between Reyes and Ireland. There are two contrasting performers at work here and both actresses turn in believable, deeply compelling performances. Ultimately, Birth/Rebirth boils down to the old nature versus nurture debate; Celie is warm and caring whereas Rose is cold and clinical. Both women approach their strange version of motherhood from two different perspectives, science and nurturing. It’s not necessarily anything new, but Moss works wonders with these age-old themes.

Moss, who is a trained emergency medical technician, films birthing sequences with an unflinching honesty. A particularly affecting scene sees a woman beg her care team to let her try and deliver her baby without the doctors cutting into her, but she’s overruled. We also witness Rose perform her own abortion. It’s in moments like these that the film and Moss’ direction shines. 

The film, clearly inspired by Mary Shelley’s timeless story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, offers a very different take on the creation myth as Yorgos Lanthimos did with his own Poor Things. Both unapologetically place women and the horror we face at the centre of their narratives. Arguably, Poor Things has more flair, but there’s a visceral, uncompromising quality to Birth/Rebirth that can’t be denied.

It doesn’t all quite come together by the time the credits roll. Despite being thematically rich and well handled, Birth/Rebirth sometimes struggles to move the story forward. There’s a lot to love about Birth/Rebirth, but the film can’t quite overcome a slightly undercooked story. The ending feels predictable and there’s a nagging feeling that there was more to be done with it. All the same, Moss proves themselves as a hugely exciting new voice in genre filmmaking.  

Birth/Rebirth is available digitally 22nd January. 

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