Reborn

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Reborn
"The conflicting concepts of motherhood at the heart of the film give it a depth and relevance unexpected in this kind of genre piece."

Today, when babies are stillborn, there are increasingly established rituals of care. Often funeral services are held and grieving parents are referred to support groups. Go back 10 or 20 years and it was frequently the case that there was no support at all. Reborn is a horror film with a supernatural premise which can sometimes be camp, but which is underscored with this deeper real world horror and uses fantasy as if to try and make sense of something it is difficult to reconcile with ordinary day to day life.

Barbara Crampton plays Lena, a faded actress whose struggles, her therapist thinks, are due in part to a failure to get closure after a stillbirth 16 years previously. Like many lone parents in that situation, she simply wanted it all to go away and never found out what happened to the body of her baby. She's therefore quite unaware that her child is actually alive - or at least not dead - revived with electrokinetic energy by a crazed necrophiliac mortuary attendant (Chaz Bono). Upon reaching the age of 16, young Tess (Kayleigh Gilbert) has become potential prey for her keeper, but she has also been developing electrokinetic powers of her own, prompting her to escape and go looking for her mother.

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There's the prospect here of a happy ending but it's pretty clear early on that that's not what we're going to get. Tess is essentially a Frankenstein's monster figure, the sympathetic star of a creature feature, destined to be misunderstood and to lash out. Gilbert's unusual thinness and huge eighties-style hair, which looks like it has been in an argument with a Van de Graaff generator even before the sparks start flying, add to the impression that she's not quite human and much of the film's tragedy lies in the way that she tries to be. This creates a curious tension with Lena, whose feelings, for all that they run deep, may not be quite as consistent or straightforward as they seem.

The conflicting concepts of motherhood at the heart of the film give it a depth and relevance unexpected in this kind of genre piece. A scene where Tess visits one of Lena's acting classes and performs opposite her, prior to revealing who she is, has something of the magnetism of the celebrated audition scene in Mulholland Drive. Around this, however, we get a playfully formulaic story involving protectiveness, revenge, spectacular deaths (some of which feel richly deserved) and investigation. There's just a hint of romantic interest between Lena and Bob Levitan's detective, introduced in a seamlessly natural way and never getting in the way of the story or of the larger issues she's dealing with.

With its perspective-changing ending (again a classic genre riff), the film employs its title in a deliberately ambiguous way. It's unashamedly trashy when occasion calls for it but there's a lot of intelligence at work here. The combination will doubtless put off some viewers. Others will find it a delight.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2018
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A stillborn baby girl is abducted by a morgue attendant and brought back to life by electrokinetic power. On her 16th birthday, she escapes captivity and sets out to find her birth mother, leaving a trail of destruction behind her.

Director: Julian Richards

Writer: Michael Mahin

Starring: Barbara Crampton, Kayleigh Gilbert, Bob Levitan, Chaz Bono, Bob Bancroft, Alexa Maris

Year: 2018

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

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Still/Born