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Review: Roger Conners’ “Rebirth” (A Night of the Living Dead Remake)

This one was years in the making, but Roger Conners’ Rebirth is finally screening in Ohio and distributors are hot on its trail. It’s startling to see how much has stayed the same since production on Rebirth began, with the political climate and social injustices plaguing America ramping up once again due to the upcoming election. George A. Romero’s zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead, tackled these themes back in the 60’s and Roger Conners’ remake is tackling them again in Rebirth. Homophobia and religious right-wing hysteria are the two biggest topics that serve as the backdrop against hordes of zombies. I’m sure there are themes to explore and Rebirth is just as much a talking point as the original, but I missed them because this is a fun, independently shot remake and, well, the cast is just so fucking attractive. There, I said it. Roger Conners, Aswan Harris, Alvin Hudson, Rachel Anderson, Bradley Michael Arner, Taylor Nelms and Jim Strang star in a homage to George A. Romero, which was re-titled from Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth to only Rebirth at the request of Image 10 Productions – the company behind the original motion picture.

From Rising Pulse Productions and Disposable Entertainment, Rebirth finds a youngish man (Conners) visiting a graveyard only to be swarmed by zombies. He meets a mechanic (Harris) during his escape, and they seek shelter in a farmhouse they believe to be abandoned. When a small group of survivors bring turmoil to the safe place, it’s humans vs humans and zombies in the film written, directed and produced by Roger Conners. Now, it’s interesting to see the iconic role of Barbra (we love you, Judith O’Dea) replaced by a gay man, and it’s interesting to see how these types of little changes directly effect the trajectory of the film itself and the narrative depicted by the characters. Rebirth finds cinematography by Noelle Bye and editing by Michael Kunz, Malachi Pulte and Brandon Jester. As I’ve mentioned, this is one of the more independent remakes of Night of the Living Dead that you’ll find. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the lighting, the special effects and the amount of extras who showed up to support this project as ghouls. What it lacks in big budget, it makes up for with heart and ingenuity.

There is one style choice that I enjoyed, and one that I felt was questionable. I love that Rebirth has a mix of new and old technology/atmosphere, almost as if the 2010’s collided with the 1960’s. It’s a retro-steam-punk-ish environment that gives you the best of both worlds. What I didn’t like is how some of the ghouls have glowing white eyes. I don’t frown on the idea because it differs from the original, instead kind of being “meh” on the idea because it leans too far into the realm of the supernatural instead of horror for my tastes. There were also some shots that definitely deserved a do-over and scenes that needed more fitting scores. However, I always like to contrast the good with the bad, so I’ll also say that I think Rebirth bonded its core characters together much better than the original. I know that’s going to get some tomatoes thrown my way, but hey, I thought I should highlight the writing skills by Conners. Rebirth quietly sneaks up on you and takes you to the ground before you know it, and for that, it’s deserving of a positive review.

A profound time capsule of our own ignorance, Rebirth will leave viewers chomping for more. It’s not perfect and it’s rough around the edges, but it was made with love and devotion to the original and one of the better remakes to hit DVD shelves (in the future). You can’t go wrong with a feature that’s daring, pointed and oh so scary and suspenseful. Final Score: 7 out of 10.

Written by Michael Therkelsen

(Senior Editor)