Written and directed by Karl Mueller (his second feature in the chair and fifth credit as writer) Rebirth stars Fran Kranz (The Cabin in the Woods, Dollhouse, JourneyQuest) as the feckless “everyman” Kyle. Kyle has a wife, a daughter and a bank job that he loathes. He also has a boss who does not respect him and a life that is repetitive and boring. Soon though, Kyle will get a lesson in Adrenaline 101 that is going to change his life.
Out of the blue Kyle’s old college buddy Zack (Adam Goldberg) shows up with a proposition. Take the weekend off and leave his wife and child at home. He invites his old pal Kyle to a retreat that Zack promises will be fun and exciting.
The white collar desk jockey decides to take Zack up on his offer and after a mysterious and confusing start, his weekend goes straight downhill. Trapped in a huge house with multiple doors, each leading to another surreal or dangerous scenario, Kyle soon wants nothing more than to go home.
Kranz is brilliant as the man so far out of his comfort zone that we panic for him. His character goes from insecure mouse to outraged avenger through the course of his time at the “Rebirth” weekend retreat. A seminar that is meant to “wake you up.”
Mueller’s film is a real treat. Not only does it have an ironic twist at the end but it also confuses the viewer as much as it does Kranz’ Kyle. The cast includes the splendid Pat Healy (Ghost World, The Innkeepers) and Harry Hamlin in cameo roles. It also has Neighbours alumnus Nicky Whelan as the enigmatic Naomi.
The film follows Kyle’s frantic journey at the weekend seminar as it goes from bad to increasingly worse. Mueller has managed to make the Rebirth program feel like a cross between a bible camp and those empowerment/self help conventions.
In many ways it feels as though Mueller is having a sly dig at Christianity and the church. The members of Rebirth all feel like kissing cousins to church members who “know” something you do not. The somewhat patronizing and condescending attitude displayed toward “nonbelievers” is prevalent in all the members of Rebirth.
Although the ending, along with the “branding” for each successive “rebirth” feels almost like a “Mark of the Beast” scenario. (Especially when one takes into account the ending and its surprising twist.)
It is the increasing adrenaline rush that Kyle goes through that pushes the story forward however. As the credo, or mission statement of Rebirth is that this is “real life” it makes sense that the members are hooked on the rush. The seminar points out that what Kyle and the other new initiates live in outside is a zombie existence.
Rebirth is a film that starts as one thing and ends as another. It is either an ironic look at self help seminars, or organized religion. It could even be presenting Adam Goldberg’s character as the Antichrist.
This is a five star film that grabs your attention and holds it. Even the slow build at the beginning keeps us interested, although that may be more from the power of Kranz’ acting than the actual storyline. The script and Kranz’ performance have us on Kyle’s side from moment one and that is what makes this film work so well.
Rebirth is streaming on Netflix at the moment and is well worth a look or two.