If a good friend asked me if they should see birth/rebirth, I would tell them yes, but I would also feel compelled to issue a warning. The movie is intensely disturbing. It’s not the bloodiest or goriest picture ever made, although there’s some of that in here. No, the ideas are what makes it disturbing. The two main characters perform unconscionable acts, the implications of which force you to squirm in your seat. I’m a man and it got to me. The effect will undoubtedly be tenfold – maybe even a hundredfold – for women.

Celie (Smile’s Judy Reyes) is a maternity nurse whose six-year-old daughter Lila (A.J. Lister) suddenly becomes sick and dies. She tries to visit the morgue to see her child’s body, only to discover that it’s gone missing. That’s because pathologist Rose (Marin Ireland from The Boogeyman) has taken the corpse. Celie tracks her down to her apartment, where she discovers Lila alive inside. Rose, it is revealed, has developed a process to bring the dead back to life and needed a human test subject. Lila fit the bill.

A dead child is obviously a distressing subject. That’s not what makes birth/rebirth unsettling, nor is the fact that Lila is not even remotely out of the woods despite returning to life. Without getting specific, there’s a certain element Rose needs to carry out her procedure. How she goes about acquiring that element will be traumatizing to some viewers. So will how she gets it once her initial method is no longer viable. Again, the story will impact women even harder than it will men. Let that be a clue.

Director Laura Moss co-wrote the screenplay with Brendan J. O’Brien, and it admirably does not shy away from dark subject matter. A picture like this flops if it chickens out. Moss, who is a non-binary filmmaker, refuses to chicken out. They want to deliver an extremely human kind of horror. No monsters, serial killers, or supernatural entities. Just two people blinded by very understandable personal desires that cause them to stretch morality to its breaking point. A “What would you do in Celie’s position?” factor is in here, too, adding to the discomfort level.

Both lead actresses do superb work. Reyes credibly takes Celie through a gamut of emotions, from profound grief, to pure shock, to gut-wrenching guilt. She never lets you stop caring, even when the character does stuff you don’t approve of. On her end, Ireland perfectly infuses Rose with an edgy quality. If all geniuses are a little warped, then Rose is definitely a genius. Dedication to her medicine turns her single-minded in its pursuit, to a degree where nothing else matters.

Moss had made a horror thriller with big ideas on its mind. Intellectual engagement matches the perpetually queasy sensation the movie provides. I can’t say watching birth/rebirth is a pleasant experience, and you couldn’t pay me to sit though it a second time. Then again, that is precisely the reaction a picture like this should evoke. Mission accomplished.

out of four

birth/rebirth is rated R for disturbing material and gore, some sexual content, language, and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.