J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Rebirth: Its What You Need On Netflix

Any self-help book that is actually legitimate should be the first and last one you’d ever need to read. Likewise, going through a process called “Rebirth” definitely sounds like a one-time only experience. Yet, apparently many followers keep getting Rebirthed over and over again. It is hard to understand why, given how harrowing the process is for a reluctant new initiate in Karl Mueller’s Rebirth (trailer here), a Netflix original movie that starts streaming today.

Kyle Something is a striving yuppie with a wife and kid, who has made peace with his conversion to bourgeoisie respectability—mostly. Then along comes his long-lost, off-the-grid, counter-culture college roommate Zack to rock his world with an invite to some sort of Kumbaya retreat called “Rebirth.” Against his better judgement, Kyle agrees to attend, but then feels rather put out when it looks like he already missed the whole show.

It turns out, they are just going to make him work for it. Yet, even when he follows the clues, everyone makes him feel distinctly unwanted, especially the cult’s high-ranking femme fatale, Naomi. She has a habit of answering questions even more pointed questions, which will have viewers pulling their hair out in exasperation, along with Kyle, but that strong reaction is sort of the whole point.

As Kyle wanders through the cult’s complex, he will stumble into 1960s encounter groups from Hell, hazy, drugged-out orgies, and some Medieval genre business. However, something about the Rebirth shtick keeps him from taking flight. Indeed, Mueller is absolutely spot-on identifying the manipulative methods cults use to control people. Frankly, the wilder Kyle’s Rebirth gets, the more believable the film becomes.

Fran Kranz is cringe-inducingly perfect as the gawky, out-of-his-depth Kyle. You can see how uncomfortable he is in his own skin. He just has potential cult victim written all over him. Frankly, he is probably just lucky Rebirth got to him before Scientology. Nicky Whelan, resembling an aloof Robert Palmer back-singer, just makes him look small. Adam Goldberg is also surprisingly sinister channeling his inner New Age puppet-master as the slogan-spouting Zack. For extra added genre cred, Pat Healey eventually turns up in a cult-related role. However, nothing is scarier than Harry Hamlin playing a touchy-feely love guru.

Mueller’s execution is tight and tense, bearing out the promise of his unjustly under-rated Mr. Jones. He seems strangely comfortable navigating the terrain between psychological thriller and horror movie. It all works so well, you will rush to re-read Eric Hoffer’s True Believer and Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear after watching it. Recommended for fans of cult films about cults, Rebirth now streams on Netflix.

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