Thanks to her work with the late Stuart Gordon, and to cult items like Chopping Mall, Barbara Crampton is a horror legend. Since her comeback with You’re Next, she’s done some interesting work and shown great acting chops, particularly in the underseen Sun Choke, but Reborn is evidence that she alone can’t elevate truly terrible material.
In a prologue, in the middle of a lightning storm, a creepy morgue attendant (Chaz Bono) discovers a baby, presumed stillborn, is alive and takes her home. That baby grows up to be Tess (Kayleigh Gilbert). Tess has telekinetic powers and on her 16th brithday sets out to find her mother. Crampton plays Lena O’Neill, an actress who Tess believes to be her mother. Her career has been on the skids, however, she’s preparing for an audition for a very famous director.
At its heart, Michael Mahin’s screenplay (his first) is a basic Carrie ripoff set on the margins of the film business. Early scenes suggest an abusive home life for Tess. Chaz Bono’s sweaty and repellent performance in these scenes counts as one of the film’s better elements; it’s basic, but at least feels approriate to the character. Once Tess gets out into the world of LA everything has a cheap, evenly lit, sheen reminiscent of early digitally shot films. If one were feeling generous it could be suggested, given a late twist, that this is intentional; a reflection of the work Lena has been doing, but if that’s the case it feels pretty insulting to a certain director.
As with the look, there is perhaps a charitable way to read Barbara Crampton’s performance: as that of an actress struggling to find her character, a perfect example of this can be seen in a couple of Elle Fanning’s scenes in Super 8, but it’s something that should come across when Lena is acting, not when Crampton is. Because either Crampton or director Julian Richards fail to draw this distinction, the performance comes across as flat and the actress as somewhat lost. That said, she’s positively overacting next to co-star Kayleigh Gilbert. Sissy Spacek’s performance in Carrie is one of the greatest in horror cinema, a deceptively simple turn from a wallflower into a figure with great power. Gilbert’s attempt at approximating the spirit of that character is an affectless performance; quietly spoken and all but monotone, with some intense staring thrown in when Tess uses her powers. It’s not as if the screenplay is offering her much support, but Gilbert is a fatally weak centre for the film.
The narratives about Lena’s acting, her relationship with her agent (Rae Dawn Chong) and the cop (Michael Paré) investigating the deaths Tess is leaving her wake are all mere time fillers. The investigation has nowhere to go and the chief interest in Paré’s performance is trying to predict how long his beard will be in the next scene, so hilariously bad is the continuity.
Even if the rest of the film were better, I would struggle to recommend Reborn based on its ending: the cheapest and most hackneyed device possible, it at once undoes the entire movie, allows Julian Richards to give a self-congratulatory nod to another of his films and makes me embarrassed for a great filmmaker. Even at 77 minutes, this is a massive waste of everyone’s time.