Writer/director/star Roger Conners’ film Rebirth is the latest remake of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It was even shot under the title Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth. Since the official remake in 1990 there have been so many versions, animated, in 3D and whatever else that I’ve lost count.
Can Rebirth, a film that dispenses with gimmicks and stays reasonably close to the original come through where so many of the others have fallen short? Especially one shot for about a tenth of what the original cost fifty three years ago?
Adam (Roger Conners, The Curse of Lilith Ratchet, Teacher Shortage) and his brother Johnny (RJ Messenger) have come to visit their mother’s grave. Johnny begins to tease the already nervous Adam. Unfortunately what he thought was a drunk turns out to be a zombie and it’s Johnny that gets attacked.
He joins up with Ben (Aswan Harris, Marauders) and the two take refuge in what seems like an empty house. As it turns out, the Reverend Harold Cooper (Alvin Hudson) and a small group of survivors, including his injured daughter (Hailey Moltz), are hiding in the basement. And the reverend is even less happy to see a black man and a homosexual in the house than he would be if they were zombies.
If you’ve seen the original much of Rebirth will seem familiar. The big differences are the Barbara character is replaced by Adam and Harry Cooper, while still a loudmouthed bigot is now a man of the cloth as well. The zombies are the slow, shambling creatures they were in Romero’s films, but for some reason their eyes occasionally glow.
Rebirth follows the plot of Night of the Living Dead fairly closely, but it throws in enough changes that you don’t feel like you’ve seen it before. For example the young couple Tom (Bradley Michael Arner, Chill: The Killing Games) and Judy (Taylor Nelms) are in the film. But this time Judy works at the nearby gas station where they need to get fuel for their escape rather than pulling up to the pumps at the farmhouse.
The real star of the show is Alvin Hudson as the absolutely vile Reverend Cooper. One minute spewing about God, the next beating his wife (Rachel Anderson, Fighting the Sky) for daring to talk back to him. And he’s quite happy to leave Adam and Ben to be eaten, especially as he blames “faggots like him” for the zombie apocalypse. Hudson perfectly captures the kind of religious hypocrite that ignored their bible and claimed a serial adulterer was chosen by God to lead America.
On the other hand I frequently found Conners’ performance as Adam annoying. He frequently acts like a stereotypical effeminate gay man, running around shrieking and waving his hands in the air. If I didn’t know Conners himself was gay, I’d think it was meant as an insult to the LGBTQ+ community. Thankfully he eventually becomes mute and semi catatonic and actually does a better job of conveying his fear and trauma just through expressions and body language.
The zombie makeup and the various bits of gore are practical effects and nicely done. And we do get plenty of zombies throughout Rebirth and a veritable flood of them at the end when they get into the house. And, as in the original, Johnny is among the zombie horde.
Also in common with the original, Rebirth has a few things to say about bigotry and isn’t shy about putting its social commentary out there. I’m sure that will be annoying to those who throw “woke” around as an insult to everything that doesn’t match their world view. But it is staying true to Romero and his films.
For a film made for $12,000, Rebirth delivers quite a bit more than I expected. It has several effective scenes and the ending is, at times, nightmarish and a bit disturbing. Roger Conners has made a solid directorial debut and he deserves a real budget for his next film.