It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Nobody sees the little boy come into the apartment, but suddenly there he is, a stranger in the room at a family birthday party. "I am Sean," he says. Sean is the name of Anna's husband, who died 10 years ago. The boy's name is Sean, but that's not what he means. What he means is that he is Sean and that when Sean died while jogging in Central Park, he was reborn and now here he stands, age 10.
Since the first two scenes of "Birth" show the death and the birth, we're prepared for the reincarnation. What I wasn't expecting was a film that treats it as intelligent, skeptical adults might. They don't believe in reincarnation. Neither did the original Sean; the movie opens with a black screen and we hear him giving a speech: "As a man of science, I just don't believe that mumbo jumbo."
"Birth" is an effective thriller precisely because it is true to the way sophisticated people might behave in this situation. Its characters are not movie creatures, gullible, emotional and quickly moved to tears. They're realists, rich, a little jaded. At first, they simply laugh at the boy (Cameron Bright). Even when he seems to know things that only her husband would know, Anna (Nicole Kidman) is slow to allow herself to be convinced. She loved Sean and mourned him a long time, but after 10 years it is time to resume her life, and she has just announced her engagement to Joseph (Danny Huston).
Anna lives with her mother, Eleanor (Lauren Bacall), in a luxurious Manhattan duplex. The family includes her sister, Laura (Alison Elliott), her brother-in-law, Bob (Arliss Howard), and her close friends Clara (Anne Heche) and Clifford (Peter Stormare). Since they're all present when Sean first appears, they're all involved in the dilemma of what to do about him. Sean's parents order him not to annoy Anna anymore, but he turns up anyway, solemn and unblinking, an unsettling combination of a kid and a solemn, unblinking presence. When Anna tells him she simply doesn't believe him, he says, "What if Bob comes to my house and asks me some questions?" "How do you know Bob?" "He was my brother-in-law." Bob goes and asks some questions, and as the family gathers to listen to a tape recorder of Sean's answers, it's clear something exceedingly strange is going on.