There’s a multitude of reasons horror is my favorite genre, but one of the biggest of the bunch is that often, scary human truths can be easier to process when exploring them via a horror film. That’s certainly the case with Laura Moss’ directorial debut, Birth/Rebirth, a film they describe as one that addresses “the horror of having a body.”
Judy Reyes and Marin Ireland lead as two women with very different connections to motherhood. Reyes’ Celie is a maternity nurse and single parent to 6-year-old Lila (A.J. Lister), and Ireland’s Rose is a pathologist who’s interested in another form of birth — rebirth. Ultimately, Celie and Rose wind up in a situation where they must co-parent a reanimated child — Lila.
With Birth/Rebirth celebrating its premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival ahead of its Shudder release, Moss, Reyes, Ireland, and Breeda Wool all swung by the Collider Studio presented by Sarasota Spring Water to discuss their experience making the movie.
The idea for the film first popped into Moss’ mind back when they read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the first time at just 13 years old. As they got older, the idea evolved. Here’s how they put it:
“I was literally going through puberty when I started thinking about Frankenstein and a female Dr. Frankenstein and using the processes of her body to create something with her mind. So that was really at the forefront of the project when I started thinking about it. And then when I was in my mid 30s and it was really coming to fruition, everyone in my life was talking about parenthood, having a child with your body, having a child another way, choosing not to have a child, that choice being made for you. It was on my mind [and] everybody’s mind in my life and so it really became a core part of the film.”
The concept was also quite personal to Wool who had a child shortly before getting the Birth/Rebirth script. She explained:
“I was in my kitchen breastfeeding my child and I looked down at my beautiful darling child's face and was like, I wonder if she would just bite down right now. [Laughs] She had no teeth, but there was something horrifying about the moment. And the process of motherhood vacillates wildly between body horror and extreme elated cosmic appreciation for life, and I felt this overwhelming feeling that our film canon does not have movies that talk about this experience … Keeping a baby alive is absolutely frightening. I had been through death before that. Death is frightening, but I was like, why isn't there 50, 100 movies? This should be a main topic of films, women giving birth. And then all of a sudden, I get Laura’s script and I’m like, here it is!”
Reyes’ personal connection to the screenplay? Moss wrote the role of Celie specifically for her. Reyes recalled:
“I was terrified. I think for me, as an actor, I always want to know what the right questions to ask are. I always want to go past that certain place instead of just letting it fall into place, which is exactly what [Laura] did. So flattered and under pressure for being the person in mind for the film, and yet, feeling the fit when you read it is a true gift. And we were able to explore and discuss and try different things that were rewarding. Laura built an environment that we will not stop talking about … It’s a film made by and for women, and in front of the camera with women. We had about 75% women on the set, queer, diverse, and that fits like a glove. You feel safe, you feel comfortable.”
While highlighting some invaluable members of that behind-the-scenes team, it was no surprise that Ireland immediately pinpointed the production’s medical consultant, Emily Ryan. Ireland clarified, “We call her Emily Medical.” Ryan is a Stanford pathologist who not only took time off to advise during production but also worked on the script with Moss for years. Moss added, “She's college roommates and best friends with my composer, Ariel Marx.” Ireland also emphasized, “[For me], [Emily] was as much a part of this movie as the three of you. She’s extraordinary.”
Moss went on to reveal one specific element of the production design where you can Ryan’s expertise impacting the authenticity of Rose’s reanimation procedure:
“I actually wanted an hour-long tutoring session from Emily before the press day, which I didn't get, which is like, 'Remind me of all the medical things!’ Rose developing her life-giving serum from stem cells is absolutely rooted in regenerative medicine trends today. I definitely wrote the line, ‘Rose has a complicated serum apparatus on her windowsill,’ and was like, someone will figure that [out]. [Laughs] And it was amazing because [production designers] the Andujar twins and Emily Medical not only designed this incredible apparatus, but it ‘works.’ She was describing to me the functionality of how things are distilled and changed throughout that process. I think that was mind-blowing to me that they can make that real.”
Looking for more from Moss, Ireland, Reyes, and Wool on the making of Birth/Rebirth? You can find just that in the full video interview at the top of this article!
Special thanks to our 2023 partners at Sundance including presenting partner Saratoga Spring Water and supporting partners Marbl Toronto, EMFACE, Sommsation, Hendrick’s Gin, Stella Artois, mou, and the all-electric vehicle, Fisker Ocean.