Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Rebirth (USA, 2016)

(Semi-spoilers.) Here's an oddly unsettling movie that slipped through the cracks and into instant obscurity, though it remains readily available as one of the many unknown movies floating about on Netfux that nobody ever watches (or at least nobody we know). Possibly an unjust fate, for though we ourselves still cannot decide whether we liked Rebirth or hated it, we have to admit that we haven't been able to simply forget the movie and find our thoughts wandering back to it time and again, questioning less how the movie resolves itself than how we might react if we found ourselves in a similar situation. In that sense, Rebirth has a resonance that far outlasts many another movie that easily and quickly gets a "Like". And lasting resonance is a noteworthy quality, to say the least, for how often does a movie truly make you think and consider?
Contemplation on how we would react is probably moot, however, for not only do we have neither a family nor a 9-to-5 grind suffocating us with monotony, but even when we did have the latter of the two we tended to abuse it more that it abused us (which may be why we always tended to lose all our 9-to-5s).
Furthermore, were any of our long-lost, past best friends from any given previous stage of our life to suddenly show up and use a fake "Your kid/wife/puppy dog/kitty is in the hospital" call to instigate a surprise reunion, and then blow endless hot air about how some weekend program has changed his life and how we have to do it, too, we would write the dude or dudette off as a definite ex-friend, like any other past friend who went Scientologist, was born again, found Trump or the AfD (generally, in Germany, they tend to like both and also claim that the Jews started both World Wars), or lost themselves to heroin or meth or hardcore alcoholism (the last, we assume, will be what one day drives all our current friends to ignore us on the street).
But Kyle (Fran Kanz of Cabin in the Woods [2011 / trailer], Bloodsucking Bastards [2015 / trailer] and You Might Be the Killer [2018 / trailer]), the figure of identification of Rebirth, is not us: his wife Mary (Kat Foster) might be hot and they might still have occasional sex despite a button-cute daughter, but his home life and an unfulfilling but safe and obviously well-paying Dilbert-like 9-to-5er bank job leave him feeling empty and unsatisfied and in a rut. So when his old best bud Zack (Adam Goldberg of Dazed & Confused [1993 / trailer], The Prophecy [1995 / trailer], Stay Alive [2006 / trailer], From Within [2008 / trailer] and Miss Nobody [2010 / trailer]), who dropped off the face of the earth a few years earlier, suddenly shows up with a free ticket to a Rebirth weekend, his initial reluctance to break routine slowly crumbles and he suddenly takes the jump — straight into a bottomless rabbit hole of nightmarish confrontations in what can only be described as a self-improvement retreat from hell.
Kyle is not exactly an easy protagonist to root for. Aside from the fact that he seems to wallow in dissatisfaction (he seems to totally lack any interests, and interests are the key to a happy life), he is also a bit of a wet rag. That there's more to him than meets the eyes is revealed, however, in the follow-the-clues segment where he finds his way to the Rebirth bus… at which point he once again becomes a testicle-less wet rag, at least until he is pushed too far and feels he must fight for his life and escape.
But a friend in need is a friend indeed. And Kyle is a friend indeed: having finally found the way out, he is confronted with the fact that his former best bud, the Rebirth über-fan Zack, is also somewhere in the building, so instead of being Elvis and leaving the building, Kyle decides that he just can't leave the loser behind, thus re-entering the rabbit hole to hell. (Guess he never had a friend who became an addict — then he would have known: you can't trust a junkie… especially an intelligent one.)
Perhaps the main reason we have problems with the movie is that for most of Rebirth, even if we are able to swallow Kyle's decision to take part in a questionable weekend program, he is simply a difficult person to like: a dull, chronically supercilious yuppie whose sad-sack self pity and wimpiness is unbearable. Once he develops testicles, however, he becomes one to root for, even if he seems to take one wrong turn after the other…
As for the ending, there are two twists, and they do hold a cynical punch but cannot be discussed without going full Spoiler! Let us just say, however, that considering how big Kyle's balls were by the end of Rebirth Hell, he lost them pretty quickly again back at his home after the implied Jim Jones Kool-aid and appearance of "evidence". Once a wimp, always a wimp — though the final scenes intercut with the credits do redeem the movie and add a second punch to the resolution. In the end, however, we would argue that in Rebirth, Kyle basically traded off one form of zombiedom for another form of zombiedom… one which, like Hotel California, he can never leave.

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