You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Rebirth’

Caught somewhere between 'Fight Club' and 'The Game,' this David Fincher knock-off falls short of its premise's promise.

Fran Kranz, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Whelan, Kat Foster, Steve Agee, Pat Healy, Harry Hamlin.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4902716/

The pitfall of a tantalizing set-up is that it requires a sterling payoff to match — a recipe for disappointment born out by “Rebirth,” whose premise-establishing early passages lead only to underwhelming revelations. Playing like a cross between multiple David Fincher efforts, all with a dash of anti-Scientology and meta-film-criticism elements thrown in for bewildering measure, this story about a man on a perplexing journey of self-discovery is best when keeping its audience in the disorienting dark, far away from the more pedestrian truths that ultimately come to light.

Writer-director Karl Mueller’s story opens with a montage of Kyle’s (Fran Kranz) monotonous routine: dawn treadmilling; breakfast with his young daughter; commuting to the bank where he’s employed as a social-media chief (writing fake millennial tweets touting their mortgage business); and coming home to his wife Mary (Kat Foster). That dreary schedule is interrupted by the unexpected arrival at work of Zack (Adam Goldberg), an old college friend whose bushy beard, arm tats and motor-mouthed demeanor signify that he’s far from a kindred office drone.

Apparently still clinging to a juvenile manifesto the two wrote in college — whose three regulations were, “F— the Man,” “Keep It Real” and “Don’t Be Boring” — Zack convinces Kyle to join him at a mysterious weekend event known as Rebirth, which Internet promos show to be a creepy self-help program pushed by cheery drones in front of blue-sky digital backgrounds and logos. The similarity between these clips and the types of Scientology videos featured in Alex Gibney’s non-fiction exposé “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” are difficult to miss, and those links only grow stronger as Kyle makes his way through his bizarre day.

From a hotel room bathroom where clues are revealed on mirrors by steam, to a shuttle bus full of silent men in blindfolds, to a dank basement where a burly speaker riles up attendees with his tale of escaping the outside “zombie world,” then lays out the rules that govern their retreat, and finally leads them in a “We are not a cult!” chant, Kyle finds himself on a decidedly baffling odyssey. Charting its protagonist’s progress through a sprawling graffiti-adorned house whose rooms contain confrontational or seductive figures, Mueller’s film strikes a tantalizing chord situated between Fincher’s “The Game” and “Fight Club.” Meanwhile, his and cinematographer Benji Bakshi’s sleek long-take lensing — highlighting both the creepiness of shiny surfaces, and the menace of grimy blackness — also recalls “Birdman,” as does its score of anxious drumming.

Encountering a hostile group-therapy leader (Steve Agee) and a guru (Harry Hamlin) surrounded by libidinous women in a pillow-filled chamber, and repeatedly confronting a short-haired blonde in a suit (Nicky Whelan) who answers queries with even more exasperating questions, Kyle proves alternately intimidated and tempted by his fellow Rebirth-ers’ talk about liberation. The dawning problem with “Rebirth” isn’t a lack of inhibition, however, as much as a third act that features only dull bombshells about this underground system of renewal, whose malevolent purpose is italicized by its out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new name.

Goldberg’s cocky, crazy-eyed energy as the Tyler Durden-esque Zack gives the action a significant boost in the personality department, especially since Kranz’s Kyle is imagined as a bland archetype: the slumbering cipher who’s awakened to the conformist reality of the world, and his condition. Kranz’s protagonist begins as a dull center of attention, and then — once his head begins spinning thanks to the beguiling games — transforms into an unhinged irritant, and the actor’s performance is increasingly one of off-putting screaminess.

A crucial Rebirth dictate is “No Spoilers,” which when coupled with the idea that its participants shouldn’t be spectators akin to anonymous Internet haters, suggests that Mueller intends the film as a self-conscious commentary on online movie culture. That thread, alas, is never sufficiently developed — and undermined by the fact that no one would dare spoil the film’s surprises, because doing so would expose the proceedings’ disappointing climactic emptiness.

Film Review: 'Rebirth'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., April 17, 2016. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Midnight.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: A Netflix presentation of a Campfire production. Produced by Ross M. Dinerstein. Executive producers, Ian Bricke, Harvey Heller. Co-producers, Samantha Housman.

Crew: Directed, written by Karl Mueller. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Benji Bakshi; editor, Saul Herckis; music, Jonathan Snipes; production designer, Amelia Brooke; art director, Evan Murphy; set decorator, Kellie Jo Tinney; costume designer, Chantal Filson; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Kyle Arzt; supervising sound editor, Bryan Parker; re-recording mixer, Eric Offin; visual effects supervisor, Worth Bjorn Walters; visual effects, Local Hero; stunt coordinator, TJ White; associate producer, Lydia Dunham; assistant director, Danielle De Arakal; second unit director, Saul Herckis; casting, Dominika Posseré, Janelle Scuderi.

With: Fran Kranz, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Whelan, Kat Foster, Steve Agee, Pat Healy, Harry Hamlin.

More Film

  • European Union Placeholder

    European Parliament Gives Final Approval to Controversial Article 13 Copyright Directive

    The European Parliament on Tuesday gave final approval of Article 13, a controversial directive that shakes up the rules around copyright in the continent with ramifications for online platforms, content owners and creators, and the general public. The proposed new framework, now approved, has sparked widespread debate among the platforms, public, and content firms. The platforms, [...]

  • Fox Disney Layoffs

    Fox Studio Quickly Fades Away as Disney Starts Work on Integration

    In the waning days of 21st Century Fox, there was a run on the searchlight. As Disney neared the completion of its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox, employees on the Fox lot rushed into the studio’s gift shop to pick up mugs, shot glasses, sweatshirts, hats and T-shirts emblazoned with 20th Century Fox’s [...]

  • Small Theaters Struggle to Survive in

    Inside Indie Movie Theaters' Battle to Survive

    Nestled at the foot of a large hill on the edge of downtown Providence, R.I., Cable Car Cinema was known to local moviegoers as ”the one with the couches.” That was a charitable description. They were love seats, really — perfect if you were with a date but awkward if you went to see a [...]

  • Nadine Labaki

    Cannes: Nadine Labaki to Head Un Certain Regard Jury

    Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has been named president of the jury for Un Certain Regard in Cannes. The Festival said Labaki had been chosen after “moving hearts and minds at the last Festival de Cannes with her Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated ‘Capernaum,’ which won the Jury Prize.” More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns [...]

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Unveils Four More French Originals, 'Gims,' 'Anelka,' 'Move,' 'Of Earth And Blood'

    As it prepares to open a fully-staffed office in France and ramp up its investment in local originals, Netflix has unveiled three new documentaries, “Move” (working title), “Gims” (working title), and “Anelka” (working title), and the feature film “Of Earth And Blood” while at Series Mania in Lille. Announced during a panel with Netflix’s commissioning [...]

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content