In Birth, Nicole Kidman plays Anna, a woman who, 10 years later, still hasn't gotten over the death of her husband, Sean. Exactly why Anna continues to grieve is never revealed to us, which could be construed as a flaw. But Kidman, who's become quite a resourceful actress, tells us everything we need to know with the softness of Anna's voice, the set of her smile, the slight giggle that she keeps having to suppress. Perhaps without knowing it, Anna has become hooked on grief; it narcotizes her, keeps the world at bay. Even her engagement to Joseph (Danny Huston), a man with both feet firmly on the ground, fails to snap Anna out of it. Then, one night, a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright) shows up at Anna's apartment, which she shares with her mother (Lauren Bacall). "What do you want?" Anna asks. "You," he says. "You're my wife." The boy's name is Sean.
Even non-thriller fans will smell a rat, but trapping rats isn't what Birth's about. It's about the tricks your mind can play on you if you allow it to. Yes, the new Sean seems to know everything the old Sean knew. And yes, he's preternaturally weird, his no-nonsense manner suggesting demonic possession. Birth is clearly inspired by Rosemary's Baby, which also took place in the high-ceilinged chambers of upper Manhattan. (Kidman even has Mia Farrow's close-cropped hair, which makes her look 10 years old herself.) But director Jonathan Glazer isn't after the pitch-black comedy that Roman Polanski was mining in Rosemary's Baby. He's after the somber tunings of Sixth Sense, where people rarely raised their voices and lines of dialogue were laced with silence. Cinematographer Harris Savides casts a funereal pall over everything, foyers and corridors as empty as mausoleums.
It's an elegant film, though not particularly creepy, and some viewers may wish there was more going on. Others may find the ending unsatisfying. But if you can ease yourself into the movie's rhythms, which form one largo movement after another, you may not miss the big finish we've been trained to expect. Instead, you can luxuriate in the performances, which are uniformly topnotch. As the woman who may or may not hold the key to everything, Anne Heche is brilliantly forceful, her face congealing into a mask before our eyes. And as the man who will never be loved by Anna, no matter how long he waits, Huston is exactly the right mix of appealing and unappealing. But it's the moon-faced Bright, a 30-year-old man in a 10-year-old boy's body, who commands the screen - he and Kidman, whose beauty is more lunar than ever. When Anna's walking through Central Park, her skin melds with the surrounding clumps of snow.