Selling itself as a gut-wrenching study of grief, Birth is really just a lot of navel gazing. At times Nicole Kidman is the only sign of a pulse as a widow, on the verge of remarrying, who's suddenly faced with the possibility that a ten-year-old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband. It all sounds very mysterious, but writer-director Jonathan Glazer bleeds the story of all mystery and suspense, opting instead for lingering looks and bloated close-ups.
Ten years after her husband's death, Anna (Nicole Kidman) is hosting a birthday party for her mother (Lauren Bacall, doing her iron lady bit) when a sullen little boy Sean (Cameron Bright) crashes the do and announces that he is her departed spouse. Anna ushers him away but the child is resolute, stalking her and putting the wind up fiancé Joseph (Danny Huston).
"IN A WORD: STILLBORN"
Anna's efforts to dissuade the boy (which include moving him into her house!) turn up evidence to suggest his story is true and soon enough she begins falling in love - to the dismay of mommy dearest and her prospective second husband.
Kidman hits all the right notes as a woman paralysed by grief; sadly, though, the plot is in rigor mortis. We're simply asked to accept that Sean is who he claims to be, so the first half of the film - as Anna ponders the likelihood - is utterly devoid of intrigue. Likewise, when Anna eventually comes around, she treats Sean with unusual tenderness, but it's clear she'll never act on her illicit impulse.
As a love story Birth fails because there's no hint of why Anna fell for Sean in the first place - Bright has a powerful aura but appears to be channelling Damien from The Omen. Meanwhile Glazer's stylistic flourishes only draw attention to himself - spoiling any chance of empathy with the characters. In a word: stillborn.