About 40 minutes into “Birth Rite”, a school counselor mentions to a student that he knows what she’s going through. The student replies that he has no idea, to which the counselor responds: “I know it’s not the same, but it’s similar.” Say what now?
By the hour mark our heroine (an 18 year old teen who has just discovered that she is a witch, and that her adopted father was actually the one responsible for killing her witch parents) has done these things: slit a girl’s throat, chopped a man’s head off with a mirror, seduced her step-brother, used a toilet as a deadly weapon, then literally ripped another girl apart limb by limb. But wait — that’s not the interesting part. Having accomplished this rampage of death and destruction with psychopathic glee, our teen witch meets her mentor, a warlock who congratulates her. She responds by chastising him with this immortal line of dialogue: “You’ll excuse me if I’m not as cold hearted as you.” Er, aside from a half dozen other gruesome murders, didn’t you also just command a public toilet to literally suck a girl down into it?
Devin Hamilton, who wrote and directed “Birth Rite”, makes the mistake of not turning his movie into pure camp. Instead, most of “Rite” is played with a straight face, thus we get endless minutes of Rebecca (Natalie Sutherland) and Roman (Danny Wolske) talking about warlocks and witches and blah blah blah. The film is mostly all talk, with Roman doing all the talking and Rebecca doing all the questioning. The rest is taken up with lead Sutherland flashing skin; there are also some interesting kill scenes, with the aforementioned toilet bit being the capper.
The thing about “Birth Rite” is this: it’s actually not that bad, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad, because it really is a terrible film. Director Hamilton even throws in some camerawork ala “NYPD Blue” during the opening scene for no apparent reason. Toward the end of the movie, we get a martial arts battle between Erin (Laura Nativo), Rebecca’s stepsister, and Roman. This battle of skills has got to be one of the most silly, ridiculous, and poorly constructed fight sequence in the history of movie fight sequences. It is truly astounding to behold. You must see it for yourself in order to truly understand just how atrocious it is.
As the lead, Natalie Sutherland is either too old for the role of 18-year old Rebecca or she just looks too old. Our first view of the adult Rebecca is in loose overalls; I guess we’re supposed to immediately think “young and innocent”. It might have worked if Sutherland didn’t have such an old face, or the fact that Sutherland plays Rebecca as seething with animal lust — or at least a very horny disposition. And along the line of Sutherland looking too old, she also looks way too promiscuous, not to mention experienced (if you know what I mean).
Even less successful than Sutherland is Laura Nativo, whose Big Scene comes toward the end when she has to sob endlessly for about 10 minutes, although we never see any tears. To be honest I don’t know if Nativo is more embarrassed by her performance or if I’m more embarrassed for her. B Movie queen Julie Strain (“Heavy Metal 2000”) shows up as a history teacher, but she must have realized “Birth Rite” was even less competent than her usual movies, because she’s unrecognizable in a wig and conservative clothes. Which leads me to this conclusion: When Julie Strain is embarrassed to be in your movie, you know you’re in big trouble.
“Birth Rite” is a low-budget feature, but that doesn’t stop cinematographer Keith Duggan from pulling off some decent shots. In fact, the look of the movie is thoroughly well put-together from beginning to end. I’m not saying “Rite” is a good-looking movie, but it’s definitely easier on the eyes than a lot of its low-budget brethrens. Even though Duggan does some good work, it might have all been for naught because the editor chopped the movie up so badly that nothing really makes sense. Most of the time the film’s editing is so erratic that you have no idea what’s going on, or what just happened a second ago.
Knowing what kind of movie “Birth Rite” is, I shouldn’t even have to mention that the script is quite ridiculous, full of gaping holes, and makes as much sense as Madonna’s continued popularity. And I’m not even talking about the presence of witchcraft and whatnot. I don’t even care that Rebecca’s newfound witch powers seem to be nothing more than telekinesis — which isn’t something you associate with a witch, natch — or that she can pretty much do anything (i.e. she seems to possess the power of God) just by rubbing her little amulet. I won’t even mention that although Roman can teleport between vast distances just by snapping his fingers (not to mention travel through time), he neglects to make use of this super duper power when he chases Erin around the backyard.
Yes, you heard me correctly. The Final Battle Between Good and Evil takes place…in the backyard in broad daylight. It’s a good thing then that the guy mowing the lawn nearby didn’t look over and see, or he might have died laughing from the absurdity that is “Birth Rite”.
Devin Hamilton (director) / Devin Hamilton (screenplay)
CAST: Natalie Sutherland …. Rebecca
Danny Wolske …. Roman
Laura Nativo …. Erin
Ronnie Gene Blevins …. Paul Guilford
Julie Strain …. Ms. Carlson