Modern-day science helps two women reanimate the dead but is it worth forgoing the natural progression of life just to maintain what they both hold dear? This is the premise of birth/rebirth (stylistically lowercase title) which premiered at Sundance this week.
Pet Sematary meets modern science in this disturbing film from director Laura Moss. Let’s throw in a soupçon of Frankenstein too, just to drive home how motivated the main characters are in this film. That’s important because instead of gravedigging and stealing brains in jars birth/rebirth’s reanimated corpses require fresh unborn fetuses and pregnant women.
Like a hospital procedural, we are introduced to Rose (Marin Ireland) a pathologist who oddly finds comfort in working on fresh corpses in the morgue. We also meet maternity nurse, Celie (Judy Reese) who, although overworked, manages to spend what little quality time she has with her adoring six-year-old daughter Lila.
Rose and Celie meet through tragedy when little Lila becomes ill and dies. Celie is frantic but level-headed even when her daughter’s corpse goes missing. This leads her to Rose’s apartment where she finds Lila, who, although not conscious, is alive.
In an info dump, Rose explains that she is able to scientifically reanimate the dead using cells from a developing fetus and its placenta. In fact, her experiment is already a success in the form of a pet pig Rose keeps and treats at her house all the while keeping meticulous records.
You’d expect Celie to be horrified at the sight of her dead daughter’s reanimated but catatonic body in a stranger’s apartment. But one of her first questions to Rose isn’t “why?” It’s how many times Lila has been turned to avoid lividity and atrophy.
Thus we embark on a bloody journey with these two women as they try to complete their shopping list of harvesting human ingredients in order to progress the experiment. It’s unclear what will happen because Rose hasn’t ever taken it this far. Lila is beginning to respond to stimuli and attempting to speak, but is this just zombie muscle memory, or is the little girl accessing free thought?
There is a lesson contained somewhere in birth/rebirth. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it was about going mad while playing God. Here the two women appear sane even though what they do is crazy. At one point Rose sifts through her own aborted viscera to gather what she needs.
The obvious plot line motivation for Celie is how far she will go to “save” her child? But she isn’t saving her, and unlike Pet Sematary, this isn’t supernatural. This is science, not miracles.
Director Moss pushes this story quickly through the lens. She doesn’t want you to think too much about the politics until after it’s over. In the meantime, her focus is on the two leads.
Rose is a by-the-books pathologist with nary a facade of empathy. Her brain works primarily to solve scientific puzzles. She is the type of person who won’t leave a clue unanswered in a crossword even if she has to cheat to get it.
Celia acts like her henchman who literally has skin in the game. Reese plays the role with staggering empathy but with a serrated edge. If there is a possibility to bring her daughter back she’s willing to do anything for the chance and apologize later.
It isn’t like birth/rebirth is going into untapped horror territory. There are a lot of ideas inspired by other works at play. This film has a subdued uneasiness that gradually builds until it has nowhere else to go: they either succeed or don’t.
Gory but intelligent birth/rebirth is a sharp and thought-provoking nightmare with a tragedy at its core. It comes with a giant wink to horror fans who may snicker at some of its devices only to recoil when the body horror doubles down.
Unlike the steady overflow of mindless slashers that dominate our favorite entertainment mediums these days, birth/rebirth, spends most of its time cultivating a dark premise in hopes it will blow your mind later.
Shudder owns birth/rebirth, so be sure to keep an eye out for it on the streaming service.
[Sundance Review] ‘The Night Logan Woke Up’ Bares Dark, Familial Teeth in Gripping Thriller
Sundance Film Festival 2023 is underway and as always, is offering the best of the best in and out of the horror genre for its audiences including The Night Logan Woke Up, a new episodic thriller from multi-hyphenate talent, Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother).
Set in Quebec and presented in Canadian French, Sundance presented the first two hour-long episodes of the new series as part of its Indie Episodic program. Dolan and a brilliant cast tell the story of a family who gathers together as its matriarch dies.
Of course, all is not well in the family. If it were, there wouldn’t be much to talk about, right?
Over the course of two intense episodes, we play voyeur to eldest brother Julien’s infidelity, younger brother Denis’s strained relationship with his ex-wife and daughters, and youngest brother Elliot’s iffy recovery from drugs and alcohol.
And then there’s Mireille, the only sister in the family, estranged from them for years after the events that took place thirty years before when she snuck into her crush’s room in the middle of the night. Something horrific happened that night, something that changed the family forever, and we’re given the first initial inklings of that as the series begins.
Dolan, who also plays youngest brother Elliot, wrote and directed the series based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard, and he’s assembled a dynamic cast, many of whom starred in the original theatrical production, to bring the story to life.
Patrick Hivon bristles as Julien, who holds onto the past almost suffocating under the weight of it. Eric Bruneau brings heart and emotional availability as the middle son, always trying to please, always trying to do the right thing. As Elliott, Dolan treats us to a hyper-charged performance. You can feel him teetering, threatening to fall into old habits. His world is made of cracked glass that could shatter beneath him at any moment.
As for Mireille, Julie LeBreton brings a beautifully layered performance to the series. She is the darkened heart of this family mystery, and her every move and turn of phrase seems calculated to the tiniest decimal point. She decimates and heals with alacrity heightened by LeBreton’s ability to deliver rage at a whisper.
By the end of the second episode, I was on the edge of my seat.
I don’t just want to know what happens next; I need to know. Dolan has done a fine job teasing out the backstory of The Night Logan Woke Up. He seems to have an innate understanding of how much detail is just enough to keep his audience interested without giving too much away.
It’s a talent that far too few writers in genre entertainment seem to possess anymore, and it’s a treat to see it play out so beautifully.
The Night Logan Woke Up is brought to the screen by StudioCanal. The series premiered in 2022 on Club Illico in Canada and is set for a wider relase after its Sundance screenings.
[Sundance Review] Brutal ‘Talk to Me’ Might Be Festival’s Best Midnight Title
Australian horror movies are some of the best of the genre. They aren’t afraid to push the limits of both stories or gore. It’s apparent from the beginning that Talk to Me is moving across — way across — those same lines.
In this film, zoomers are caught in the supernatural crossfire after performing a trendy seance challenge by using a preserved hand and forearm of a psychic. This is their gateway to the other world where demons plot to manipulate human lives. All it takes is to shake the outreaching hand like a “test your strength” carnival game to make contact. It’s also a great Tik Tok ready experiment where views are likely to climb.
With all their teenage pomp, when these friends get together, it feels a bit like HBO’s Euphoria with a Conjuring twist. I’d even go so far as to compare it to The Evil Dead, the monsters here are just as intense and ugly. There is also a heavy James Wan influence from back in his Insidious days. Couple all of these things with a Creepypasta-type story and you can imagine what kind of hell is going to cross over.
At first, the teens have fun getting possessed one by one, filming each scenario. That is until one of them is overtaken by a forceful spirit that violently injures its host by forcing him to bash his head against hard surfaces. But not before manipulating him to pluck out his own eye and then squeamishly performing in a tongues-and-all-make-out session with a pet bulldog. You read that right.
The brutality is unhinged.
The adults are certain the teens are doing hard drugs in the aftermath of the injuries. If only real drugs were the case. The kids get a “high” on these possessions, but in doing so, have unknowingly ripped a hole between the real world and the hereafter where evil spirits come through and manipulate the game’s participants.
Our troubled protagonist, Mia (Sophie Wilde) is convinced she has made contact with her dead mother through one of the sessions. It’s a heartwarming moment, the only one, in this relentless barrage of disturbing images you can’t unsee.
The film is directed by YouTuber twins Danny and Michael Philippou. Despite their small screen medium, these guys have a future on larger venues. Talk to Me is an amalgam of mined ideas but this duo makes them better. Even as far as sticking an almost perfect landing which you know in this genre is a rarity.
It’s also refreshing to see them allow our main character, Mia, to slowly slip into madness without pulling cheap stunts just to appease the intended audience. Each scare is purposeful, each monster is developed and what they have to say is important.
Wilde never lets the genre get the better of her. She plays Mia with a subdued sense of weakness. You can see, had it not been for the passing of her mother, this young lady would not fall under the traps of silly peer pressure. To pull that many layers out of an actress is not the result of an expensive acting workshop, but the sign of a future star honing her craft.
It appears the directors saw the talent in Wilde and focused on that instead of some of the other actors. Alexandra Jensen as Jade plays the supportive best friend, but not to the levels of a final girl we are used to. And Joe Bird as Riley, the possessed one, is terrifying as the harbinger of hell.
The Philippou’s probably screamed out loud when veteran actress Miranda Otto (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Annabelle: Creation) said okay to the script. She is amazing in everything she does. She brings polish to an already shining movie.
There isn’t much fault to be pointed out in Talk to Me. The cinematography deserves a slight upgrade, and the collective ideas of past works are undeniably present, but the film never tries to improve upon those ideas by being extra. It’s fully aware that it is borrowing, but what the filmmakers pay back is worth far more than what was taken.
Talk to Me is a part of the Midnight section of Sundance Film Festival 2023.
[Sundance Review] ‘Infinity Pool’ is a Bleak Examination of Identity
Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool arrived at Sundance Film Festival with a not-so-surprisingly bleak look at wealth, sex, and identity with body horror to spare.
Alexander Skarsgard stars as James Foster, an author suffering from writer’s block, who travels with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) to the fictional island of La Tolqa. Visitors to the island are required by law to stay inside their resort compound, but after meeting up with the mysterious uber-wealthy couple Alban and Gabi (Jalil Espert and Mia Goth), they find themselves outside the gates.
On their way back to the compound, James hits a man with his car, killing him instantly, and is subsequently–without trial–sentenced to death. That’s when they offer him a deal. They have the technology to create a complete replica of him, with all his memories intact, who can die in his place.
Who would turn down a deal like that?
It begs the question, however: What does one do after you’ve seen yourself die? How do you recover from that?
Of course, James struggles with the answers for the next two hours. Skarsgard gives a brilliant performance in the role. Watching him break over and over and over again is terrifying and heart-breaking. And yet, there was more than one occasion where I wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it.
This is, in large part, due to Cronenberg’s writing and direction. He has taken a page out of his father’s handbook, broadly painting a canvas in which the wealthy cannot be trusted (duh), the poor will continue to do what’s bad for them because the rich tell them to (again, duh), and the only person who will suffer consequences of their actions are the poor who allowed themselves to be manipulated by the wealthy.
Sex is bad. Abstaining is bad. Wealth is bad. Being poor is bad. Life is bad. Death is bad. Making mistakes is bad. There is no such thing as a moral high ground except where Cronenberg, himself, is standing as the director/writer/god of the world he’s created.
Bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak.
Don’t get me wrong. It works. I enjoy the darkness of this kind of story. The visuals in the film will stick with you long after the credits roll. The body horror, itself, puts his father’s work to shame at times, as does his handling of the sex in Infinity Pool.
The problem was, as I sat considering the film afterward, I couldn’t help that I’d seen it all before, so the question becomes, “Was it all really necessary and could the same story be told in a way that was more effective?”
Mostly, I would say yes. Along with Skarsgard’s performance, Mia Goth is ravenous and wild in the role of Gabi. She is unhinged in interesting ways, often taking on the role of aggressor in unexpected twists. She is, ultimately, James’s foil, and she knows it almost from the moment they meet.
Goth reportedly received the sript for Infinity Pool while filming Pearl, the sequel to Ti West’s X. One can see a bit of overlap in the characters. The only real difference is that Pearl is the opposite of wealthy and therefore, her decisions come from an entirely different place.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else to be discussed without getting into heavy spoilers, and I do try to avoid those as much as possible. The only question that really remains is: Was it good?
For some, this will be the best movie of the year. For others, it will be hated on principle. For this viewer, there is only one unforgivable sin a horror film can commit, and that is to be boring. Whatever else it is, Infinity Pool is not boring.
Check out the trailer below!