Starring Fran Kranz, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Whelan, Kat Foster, Pat Healy, Harry Hamlin
Written and directed by Karl Mueller
Curiosity kills the suit instead of the cat in Karl Mueller’s Rebirth, proving that sometimes your seemingly dull suburban life might not be worth risking for a blind leap into the unknown.
New age, semi-spiritual weekend warrior retreats are a staple in self-help catharsis, but none of them are quite like “Rebirth.” Is it a cult? Is it an experience? And, more importantly, is it even legal? What begins inside the comfort of a travel bus becomes a very real struggle to maintain sanity in a maze of make believe scenarios designed to humiliate, titillate, and horrify.
With an initial setup that feels a lot like something the Duplass brothers would concoct, straight-laced Kyle (Kranz) seems stuck inside the corporate hamster wheel until his free-spirited college buddy Zack (Goldberg) shows up at his work unexpectedly to offer him a chance to rediscover the idealist he was in their younger years. Unable to resist, Kyle drinks the Kool-Aid and decides to give Rebirth a try with absolutely no idea of what’s in store for him. After following a series of clues, Kyle embarks on a twisted version of “Choose Your Own Adventure” set inside a labyrinthine abandoned building with new challenges and scenarios behind every door. Determined to escape, Kyle eventually realizes that he’s a victim of a larger conspiracy against him that he’s unlikely to ever truly be rid of. As a reference point, once the curtain is pulled back in Rebirth, Kyle feels a lot like Rick does when Negan is finally introduced in “The Walking Dead”: He’s simply not in control of his own life anymore.
The psychological warfare lobbed at Kyle throughout his personalized, interactive experience is constantly jarring and unsettling because he’s never quite sure if he’s in the right place or not. From the very start when he shows up late to orientation, Kyle feels like an outsider, and Kranz’s performance, as a result, goes from shy and rattled to angry and determined. As a lead performance, Kranz shows a wide range here, offering a much different character than his smarter-than-average stoner in The Cabin in the Woods. Adam Goldberg also delivers as a man who has basically taken self-discovery and elevated it to the level of a sick fetish. Look for Harry Hamlin, too, who has a great turn as a sex guru. Both actors add to the confusion and torment of Kyle as he navigates the crazed battleground of Rebirth.
Besides the mental anguish felt, some horror elements emerge through tortured screams in random, not so far away rooms that may be real or some part of an elaborate con. With that in mind, Rebirth becomes a reflection of how we navigate our real lives and the feeling that there’s something better out there just beyond our grasp. Preying on that desire can be a deep betrayal because it takes advantage of those who are brave enough to try something daring; yet, they wind up being a victim of their discontentment. Rebirth takes that theme, and through the mania of its running time manages to make it a darkly funny parody that feels like a lost episode of “The Twilight Zone.”