It’s Mary Kay Letourneau meets “Ghost” in this intriguing paranormal romance about a widow and the 10-year-old boy who is claiming to be the reincarnation of her dead husband.
There are ghosts, but not the traditional sort that might come to mind: Birth is more a metaphysical mystery with a dash of psychological horror. Although nothing overtly scary happens, there is a creepy feel to the whole thing thanks mostly to a young, intense actor named Cameron Bright (who was also excellent in two other supernatural-themed films this year: The Butterfly Effect, and Godsend). Nicole Kidman, no stranger herself to spooky plots (think: The Others), plays off the child’s quiet oddness perfectly.
The story begins with a man named Sean (Michael Seautels) out jogging. It’s a nippy, frosty morning and if you have a bad heart, the cold and physical exertion is a very bad combo. He collapses, and dies alone underneath a tunnel in the park. Cut to a baby boy being born. Cut to ten years later: Sean’s widow, Anna, is celebrating her mother’s (Lauren Bacall) birthday with her fiancée, Joseph (Danny Huston). Everything is fine until an unsmiling little stranger shows up, sneaking into the high-rise apartment along with some party guests. He demands to speak to Anna alone. She chuckles, humoring the kid, and goes into the kitchen with him. “It’s me, Sean.” He tells her. “I love you, and I don’t want you to marry Joseph.” Cue the theme from The Twilight Zone.
Birth could have taken an eerie, paranormal turn here. While I would have actually preferred that, I have to hand it to director/co-writer Jonathan Glazer for doing something different. Instead of playing up the supernatural aspects of reincarnation, Glazer makes us think: What if…? What if I were Anna? What would I do if someone said these things to me? Kidman, while not given a very well-rounded character or any back-story to draw from, does a very good job of showing us Anna’s confusion and her desperate hope that maybe – just maybe – her beloved Sean has found a way to come back to her.
Sean’s reappearance is no secret. Anna tells Joseph. She tells the boy’s parents. She tells her mother, and she tells Sean’s brother (Peter Stormare, in a “normal guy” role for a change). The reactions are mixed, but mostly skeptical. Joseph is, understandably, rather upset when it seems that Anna believes the boy. How do you compete with a cherubic-faced 10-year-old? How do you refute the things he seems to know about Anna and Sean’s storybook marriage? And what about the pair stripping off and bathing together…? Joseph tries the knob on the bathroom door, finds it locked, and moves away. We see that he is powerless, heartsick, and frustrated without him uttering a single word.
A somber, slow-moving study of a strange event in a small circle of peoples’ lives, Birth may not be a rip-roaring time at the theatre for everyone. Car chases and explosions are kept to a bare minimum. Ultimately, the film is tarnished by a major spoiler toward the beginning of the movie, and the grainy, greenish cinematography looks more like an error than an effect.
Birth does achieve something in creating a certain mood and it is a different approach to a basic story that’s really not new. Overall, Birth is a thought-provoking and moodily magical tale which explores the mysteries of life, death, and everlasting love.