Most genre films put far more emphasis on shocks, gore, twists and concepts than they do on performances. Generally, this makes sense. Especially for the low budget direct-to-video subset. It’s rare to find those truly affecting performances from actors that won’t cost the entire budget of some of these films. But every once and a while a low budget horror film finds a combination of performances that so far outstrips the horrific elements, that you almost wish they eschewed the special effects entirely and gave the performers more room to work.
REBORN is the story of a stillborn baby that was accidentally brought back to life during an electrical surge in the morgue, and taken in by a rather disturbing morgue attendant (Chaz Bono). Sixteen years later, Tess (Kayleigh Gilbert) is able to use the electrokinetic abilities this accident granted her to break out of captivity and try to find her birth mother, the once-famous actress Lena O’Neill (Barbara Crampton).
Barbara Crampton is an actress I’ve always loved and admired, but I think we can all agree that her genre roles never gave her a lot to sink her teeth into as a serious actress. Re-Animator, Castle Freak, and Chopping Mall may be cult classics, but they’re certainly on the campy end of the genre. REBORN really gives her the chance to flex her dramatic muscle as she plays a mother still haunted by the loss of her child sixteen years ago. The scenes between her and Kayleigh Gilbert are truly heart-wrenching to watch, and I have to give all the credit in the world to Gilbert for keeping up. The two have incredible chemistry. I could have happily watched them together for twice as much time as we’re given.
And that is where the problem of the film lies. Tess’s rampage as she eliminates anyone who stands in the way of her reconnecting with her mother is simply not that interesting compared to the more dramatic scenes. The deaths are not particularly unique, nor are they executed exceptionally well. They’re perfectly adequate for the context of the film, but when compared to how incredible the more character-centered scenes are, you’re left feeling like you want them to be over quickly so you can get back to the drama.
Overall, that’s not the worst problem for a film to have. In fact, I’d say it really makes it stand out as a unique and surprising genre entry. Fans of Barbara Crampton absolutely need to check this out, and I think we should all keep an eye on Kayleigh Gilbert and see what she does next. No doubt, she’s going to be turning heads very soon.