A young actress gives birth to a stillborn baby girl, but an accident in the morgue brings the baby back to life… with electrokinetic powers. The child is abducted by a morgue attendant, and the mother tucks her grief deep down and goes on with life. On the child’s 16th birthday she escapes captivity and sets out to find her birth mother, leaving a trail of destruction behind her.
Reborn is one of those frustrating horror films that walks the line between “legitimately good” and “so bad it’s good,” ending up in the territory of mostly forgettable. It has all the makings of an entertaining supernatural revenge flick; a fun and mostly original premise, decent cinematography, and Barbara Crampton. Let me repeat: Barbara-goddamned-Crampton. However, the script falls so flat that we are left with contrived characters and awkward dialogue that feels unrealistic at best, and downright laughable at its worst.
The story starts out promising with a Dr. Frankenstein-like scenario bringing a dead baby in the morgue back to life. A perverse morgue attendant, wonderfully played by none other than Chaz Bono, brings her home. When we return to Tess, as the baby has been named, on her 16th birthday we see that life is just about as horrible as could be imagined.
By the time she gains freedom and a newfound control of her electro-kinetic powers, the film feels so full of hope for an escalation into batshit bonkers territory, and the type of horror that leaves you cheering for the violence. Will it be there be a Basket Case like hunt for everyone who wronged her? Will she seek a mother’s affection only to be spurned and then fully lean into her monstrous side? Will she just totally lose her shit and kill everyone? Or – my favorite – will mother and daughter reconcile only to go on a killing spree together, offing all those who wronged their little family?
The answer is that the movie falls so short of everything you can imagine. Yet, sadly it is so beautiful on the way to it’s utterly anticlimactic ending. The cinematography is surprisingly competent with well framed camera angles for the character-driven scene and clever perspectives for the death scenes. In fact, the scenes where Tess really lets loose are the best part of this movie. Reborn actually manages a few jump scares, and uses Tess’ electrokinetic abilities in creative and violent ways.
Barbara Crampton brings emotion and a softness to a role that would have been melodrama in the hands of a less skilled actor. Crampton is the perfect person to flesh out the delicate and nuanced relationship like of a grieving mother and her estranged and long-thought-dead daughter. The scenes where Lena (Crampton) and Tess interact one on one do manage to be compelling, despite the contrived dialogue. She works her magic with what little she is given, but she is given so little that it is a waste of the iconic horror goddess.
Worst yet is that the character Lena is given to work off of as she navigates the search for her daughter is Detective Marc Fox, who the creepiest and world’s most inept cop. Instead of putting pressure on the plot as the body count mounts up around Lena, and investigating her or at least adding to the background story with investigations of his own, he acts as a gun toting simp. Detective Fox never once thinks to question Lena’s involvement, and instead instantly settles into the role of protector, even seemingly throwing his work aside to join her in her search for the body of the daughter she thought died in infancy.
At one point Lena is in a graveyard where the hospital buries stillborns, looking for Tess’ grave, when Detective Fox walks out from behind a tree. Lena asks “Are you following me?” to which Fox replies “More like stalking”…. and then they just go on…. talking and searching for the grave. The dialogue is so absurd in this movie that it just takes you out of the scene. The characters don’t do or say anything real people would, and instead they enter an uncanny valley of a poor approximation of human interactions. The characters feel forced through a narrative just to tell a shoddy story, likability, or even anything memorable. They are just there for the plot to push them through on a timetable, like the little kissing dancers on a cuckoo clock: rigid and timed, but void of soul.
For a movie all about a mother and daughter, one of the most intricate and explosive relationships you could possibly explore in any culture, this is incredibly disappointing. There is so much emotion, so much horrific trauma that could be explored in the way that only horror films can: visually and violently. Yet, when we are finally given the moment we have been anticipating, Tess revealing herself to Lena, the movie wobbles on what exactly it is that Tess wants, revenge or love, then just ends. It doesn’t even feel like there is a true 3rd act, and instead of an explosive encounter it just fizzles, leaving the room smelling like a wet fart.
What makes a horror movie “bad” is a subject up for debate as “bad” in relation to movies is about as objective as it gets. However, some movies tilt past the rating of bad and into the beloved “so bad they are good” territory. The distinction is in the aspirations, absurd effects, and overall good and memorable time the viewer has. The greatest shame of Reborn isn’t that it was completely terrible, it’s that it had all the elements of a good movie built on a shoddy foundation in the form of a terrible script. If it had either leaned harder into the realm of camp, or been driven by a better script with decent characters it could have been a truly good horror movie.