Starring Roger Conners, Aswan Harris, Alvin Hudson, Rachel Anderson, Bradley Michael Arner
Directed by Roger Conners
There have been countless adaptations of Night of the Living Dead released over the years, but Rebirth stands out from the crowd by respectfully adapting the 1968 classic in a modern-day setting while also including precise social commentary and strong performances from its cast. Which makes it a highly enjoyable zombie movie which fans of Romero’s original masterpiece will definitely enjoy.
Writer and director Roger Conners stars as Adam, a gay man who was visiting his parents’ graves before being forced to take refuge in a farmhouse after being attacked by zombies. It would have been tempting for Conners to have cast himself as a fearless action hero, but he instead spends the majority of the film screaming and crying. He doesn’t even have much dialogue throughout the picture, because when he isn’t screaming his head off, Adam spends most of his time cowering in a corner. Despite his lack of dialogue, Conners was still able to convey Adam’s emotions through body language and facial expressions, and he did such a good job that viewers can clearly feel the sheer terror being experienced by the character in most scenes.
The plot of Rebirth more or less follows that of the original Night of the Living Dead, with a mismatched group of survivors taking shelter in an isolated farmhouse while hoards of ravenous zombies try to break in. Except this time, one of the survivors happens to be a racist, homophobic lunatic who believes the zombie pandemic to be God’s way of punishing humanity for accepting homosexuality. We’ve all met at least one person who thinks this way in real life, and we certainly would not want to be in a crisis situation with them. Which makes Alvin Hudson’s performance as the vile Reverend Harold Cooper so memorable.
Speaking with a gravelly, domineering voice, and constantly trying to assert authority over anyone he comes into contact with, it’s easy to imagine Cooper as being someone who always gets his own way in life. So when he strikes his wife and demands they pray together instead of taking practical action to survive, most viewers will instantly feel their blood boiling over. While the character may have seemed a little too over the top at times, he still served as an unpleasant reminder that bigotry is still very much a part of modern society, something viewers would do well not to forget. Even Cooper’s wife (who was convincingly played by Rachel Anderson) begins to turn on her husband as she starts to realise how his bigotry is preventing him from making rational decisions, but by the time she finally rejects him, it’s too late to make a difference.
Aswan Harris stars as Ben, a no-nonsense mechanic who serves as the defacto leader of the group. Ben naturally comes into conflict with Cooper, and tensions quickly rise between the two men. While he clearly does not want to be trapped in the farm house any more than the rest of his companions, Ben is clearly a logical decision-maker who finds practical solutions to problems, and if it wasn’t for Cooper holding the group back, it’s possible that Ben may even have led the group to safety. Which makes Cooper and his vile prejudices seem even more loathsome.
Rebirth relies on practical effects to create its zombies, a process which is, for the most part, highly effective. Despite the clearly low budget, it was still refreshing to see actors being transformed into reanimated corpses through convincing prosthetics rather than through digital effects. The actors playing the shambling ghouls were clearly instructed on how to behave like classic Romero zombies, and the decaying makeup applied to the performers further convinced us that we are watching living corpses hungry for human flesh. Sadly, the same level of praise cannot be given to the film’s digital effects, with a scene involving an exploding truck featuring some of the most cringeworthy CGI you’re likely to see for a while. Even the exploding truck in the original 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead looked more realistic.
However, it also needs to be said that Rebirth features one of the most shocking endings of the year. If you remember how the original Night of the Living Dead ended, you probably know what to expect. In real life, there are no happy endings, and the fact that prejudice still exists in the year 2021 is truly appalling. While it can be enjoyed as a fun zombie flick, Rebirth also presents a grim picture of some of the worst ills plaguing society, so it should also be viewed as an important film which horror fans would do well to add to their collections.
As well as being both a fun and respectful homage to the original Night of the Living Dead, Rebirth also tackled serious issues which would not usually be addressed in a zombie movie, so horror fans who are prepared for a more challenging watch should definitely seek out Rebirth.