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Stars: Kayleigh Gilbert, Barbara Crampton, Michael Pare, Chaz Bono, Rae Dawn Chong, Alexa Maris, Bob Bancroft and Monte Markham.
Writer: Michael Mahin
Director: Julian Richards

Screening at the Sick Chick Flicks Film Festival, October 12-13, in Cary, North Carolina.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Julian Richard’s solidly nasty supernatural thriller might be too easily cast aside as VHS-era throwback piece, given its roster of iconic ‘80s leads and a plot that admittedly would not have been out of place amongst the weekly rentals at any Blockbuster. While it can certainly be enjoyed on those terms, there is more on offer in Michael Mahin’s layered script and Richards’ polished direction.

The opening shot – a dimly lit hospital on a dark, stormy night, circa 2000 - sets the macabre tone. In a basement morgue (a basement with windows apparently, given the flashes of lightning), Kenny the morgue attendant (Chaz Bono) photographs nude, scalped cadavers. A lightning strike on the building jolts back to life a stillborn baby, and Kenny raises her to believe they are siblings.

Leap forward to present-day LA, that baby is now Tess (Kayleigh Gilbert; pictured, top), a teen fed up with a life spent surviving Kenny’s abuse; having recently discovered she possesses electrokinesis and all its homicidal potential, she sets about reconnecting with the mother she never knew she had, at any cost. Said mother is struggling 50-something actress Lena O’Neill (horror royalty, Barbara Crampton), who has borne the psychological scar of choosing not to bear the physical scar of a caesarean birth – a vain decision she believed cost her a newborn.

Thanks to the miracle of speedy B-plot beats (the pic is a just-right 78 minutes), Tess reconnects with Lena, but exists on a short fuse. If anything gets in her way, be it Rae Dawn Chong as Tess’ agent Dory, or Alexa Maris as brash starlet Gia Fontaine, the inevitable is almost always unpleasant. Taking an interest in Tess is LAPD detective Marc Fox (Michael Pare, doing solid work in an all-too-rare co-lead role), exhibiting a nice chemistry with Crampton. (Pictured, below; Barbara Crampton, left, with co-star Rae Dawn Chong)

There are some undeniable influences at work in the strongest moments of Reborn; reanimated by lightning, the existential yearning that drove Frankenstein’s Monster is at the core of Tess’ journey, while teen angst unleashed by instinctive vengeance will seem very familiar to fans of Stephen King’s Carrie (one character’s death is a clear homage to Betty Buckley’s demise in Brian de Palma’s adaptation).

Thematically, however, this is a more complex piece than its genre roots might suggest. As Lena, Crampton does great work exploring the vanity-shredding plight of ageing in Hollywood while also humanising the long-term grief associated with stillbirth. In only her second film, Gilbert plays the bad girl well, instilling in her the sadness and desperation of a lost and lonely little girl in the body of an abused teen.

Julian Richards does ‘meta’ pretty well (see his 2003 cult film, The Last Horror Movie), so the nods to film lore are not unexpected; he even nails a running gag about director Peter Bogdanovich that pays off wonderfully. But he also displays a particularly strong affinity for character-driven storytelling, which elevates Reborn above others of its kind.

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