Notably, Barthes doesn’t lean strongly on gender roles or the predictable route of the botanist being against the project from start to finish. In fact, she subverts them by having Aly become more involved with caring for the womb, even taking it to the park and refusing to give it back to the very creepy center in which they’re housed. As he becomes attached, Rachel dreams of images of nature and marvels at biologically pregnant women. With these advances that purport to improve our lives, how much is taken away simultaneously?
It’s a great question. It’s not quite enough for a full feature like this one. Ejiofor and Clarke are all-in on the concept, and Barthes is a sharp writer of dialogue and character beats, but I was waiting for a third act that never came. Barthes said in the introduction, which included a phenomenal speech about the war in Ukraine by the way, that the film came to her as she was having the weird dreams that come with pregnancy. “The Pod Generation” feels like a dream—a little too open-ended.
“birth/rebirth” feels more like a nightmare. In a wildly coincidental double feature, Laura Moss’ vicious horror flick works in a sort of conversation with Barthes, again asking what happens when we play God, but the filmmaker here has a much darker vision of that potential. Those squeamish about medical horror need not apply to this Midnight film about two very different mothers, one who is too attached to her medical advancements and one who becomes too attached to a very unique patient.
Rose (a chilling Marin Ireland) is a pathologist who is, politely, socially awkward. Celie (an excellent Judy Reyes) is a maternity nurse. The former sees people on their last day and the latter sees them on their first day. Their lives intersect when Celie’s six-year-old daughter Lila (A.J. Lister) suddenly dies of meningitis. You see, Rose has been experimenting with curing the one thing that will get us all: death.
Moss and co-writer Brendan J. O’Brien give just enough creepy momentum to “birth/rebirth,” knowing that their audience is smart enough to understand that bringing a child back to life comes with a likely set of problems. Moss doesn’t really use jump scares, presenting the bloody horror of what’s unfolding in practical terms off creeping dread. We often feel like we’re just in a place that we really don’t want to be, especially as the women discover they’re going to need to do some extreme things to keep their project alive. It’s not quite a new Frankenstein, but it’s a fascinatingly maternal riff on what we risk when we play with life and death: the very thing that makes us human.