Cinema Signal:

Immortality & Reincarnation by Alexander David-Neel

. "Birth"

Shouldn't this be called "Rebirth?" Well, whatever it's title, it's a bit of metaphysical horror cloaked behind a clever appearance of plausibility. This is "Chucky" with all his demonic, scar-faced, evil, mind-control mechanism but in the guise of a real kid too susceptible to the dark side. If you think that adults being manipulated by other-worldly powers is fun, then this is likely to send a welcome chill up your spine.

Director Jonathan Glazer has taken Milo Addica's and Jean-Claude Carriere's writing and performed the feat of mainstreaming the hokum of reincarnation. He attempts it with all the charm and showmanship of a Vegas magic act, pulling the likes of Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Anne Heche and Danny Huston out of his hat. This is better, even, than Steven King merits and close to the M. Night Shyamalan school of ghostliness.

While on a long jog, Sean (Michael Desautels) keels over dead, a probable heart attack victim. Years later, his wife Anna (Kidman) stands over his grave paying her respects. She withdraws from the gravesite and joins her fiance' Joseph (Huston) and returns home to a posh New York apartment where they live and hang out with classy mom Eleanor, the matriarch of the toney clan. The celebration of their engagement is under way.

Clara (Heche) and Clifford (Peter Stormare), Anna's surviving brother-in-law, arrive at the building's elevator bearing a small gift package. Clara, in a state of nervous hesitancy, asks Clifford to go ahead on up while she retrieves something she forgot in the car. But, she doesn't go to the garage. She runs outside, finds a dense copse of trees and bushes, and buries the package. She then lights out for a gift store and buys a new one, presenting it as her and her husband's memento for the newly engaged couple.

None of this is coincidental.

After the party, the family is enjoying dinner when a young boy (Cameron Bright) appears, unnanounced, unexpected. The family tolerates the intrusion with some bemusement, which turns to concern when he audaciously asks to speak with Anna, alone. In the kitchen, he informs her that he is, in reality, Sean, her dead husband.

He is, what? A reincarnation? He goes on to provide details of their past life together, talking with a sophistication way beyond his actual years. Anna and family are amused, thinking they can put an end to the charade easily. Fiance' Joseph takes the reins and confronts the kid's parents, but no amount of adult intimidation breaks the boy's determined grip on winning back his "wife's" heart.

You'd think he wouldn't stand a chance, but this is a horror story, where humans always fall victim to the occult in one form or another. Horrifyingly, this version of it doesn't shy away from exploring a full set of relevant issues, like just what this kid expects out of a "re-marriage" with his supposed wife. That question is not avoided. It's an adult issue addressed by an adult filmmaker making a film for adult consumption. So, after the kid passes test after test, Anna takes him to a restaurant for a one-on-one tete-a-tete and puts the question to him. "How do you propose to take care of my needs?" she asks. "I know what you're talking about," he assures her. But we, the audience aren't assured. That is, if we're still in our seats.

Not to approach spoiling the story for anyone, I leave the ensuing developments for your own sense of enjoyent of such matters. Let me just say that the plot will thicken some more. It's in Anna's acceptance that the stiff brew of horror and loss is contained, and the story teller is not about to water it down until he's ready to spill his beans.

Hardly anyone could pull it off with a greater sense of reality and engagement than Kidman, as well equipped an actress to convey credibility as anyone in film. Give Glazer credit for casting her with this in mind. But, even with a new eyebrow arch that may be meant to mirror Camerons', the material simply doesn't allow her to pull off a charade of belief that's so beyond the zone of intelligence. We simply don't believe her emotional tie to her dead husband is so great as to transport her to fantasyland.

The rest of the fine cast has a much easier job since they remain in the world of the real. They impart all necessary depth in dealing with the nonsense of afterlife, standing in well for all of us who might react just as they do to something completely unacceptable.

Cameron Bright's arch eyebrows and cold quality of pubescent insistence work well for the part of Chucky... er, young Sean, helping him use his child's vulnerability to hide the monster within. Danny Huston's rising ire is a classic study of understandable irritation in a role far better suited to the actor than his unfulfilling one in "Silver City." Bacall is admirably constrained and expressive and Heche is devilishly impassioned.

But despite all this artistry, the story comes off as an artificial flower. Where you want to get the feeling of organic life you have only synthetic thread. It's the difference between fabric and fabrication. Copious strands of skill are standins for reality in a futile attempt to capture us in a net that's insupportable. Adult minds should rebel.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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