Resurrection is a haunting work of psychological brutality, far superior to the metaphor-heavy trauma horror it’s being incorrectly lumped in with.
Rebecca Hall has steadily amassed an impressive filmography in the 16-odd years since her proper debut in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige back in 2006. Alternating minor parts in big-budget tentpoles with smaller indie films, she particularly impresses when she’s allowed to fully inhabit steely, complicated women navigating emotionally treacherous territory. 2016’s Christine, in which she plays journalist Christine Chubbuck, is a masterclass in subtle body language and emotional stasis. 2020’s The Night House found Hall portraying a recently widowed woman unafraid to lash out at well-meaning but intrusive friends and colleagues who can’t help but speak to her in clichés and useless platitudes. Her new film Resurrection, written and directed by Andrew Semans, seems at first to be threading a needle between these two prior roles, before then descending into outright madness. Hall plays Margaret, a high-level executive at what appears to be a bio-medical firm of some sort, and she is a serious-minded professional. She cuts an imposing figure, striding confidently through the office in impeccably tailored pants suits, jogging daily to keep in shape, and dabbling in a casual friends-with-benefits deal with a married co-worker. But she still makes time to help an intern with relationship problems and banter with her teenaged daughter. This is a woman who has it all figured out: a precise, compartmentalized existence and a beautiful condo to show for it.
Until, that is, she spots a man seated several tables away from her at a work conference. Visibly terrified, Margaret flees the room, making quite the commotion as she does so. And just like that, her perfectly organized life falls apart. Thankfully, Semans doesn’t play games with the audience — this isn’t some vague, “is it all in her head” scenario, but instead a full-bodied psychological horror-thriller that builds and builds to a thrillingly unpredictable climax. The man is David (Tim Roth, practically oozing psychotic menace the second he appears on screen), a phantom from Margaret’s past who has re-emerged after 20 years to continue a particularly disturbing game that the pair once shared. To reveal more would be a disservice, not because of twists or big reveals, but because the film so carefully charts the way David escalates his designs on Margaret. Some have already dinged Resurrection with the dreaded “elevated horror” tag/criticism, and while Semans has designed the film with the slick, clean lines and sparse minimalism of much modern horror, there’s no free-form metaphor floating around the margins here. It is, instead, very bluntly about trauma, real trauma, and the way it shapes personalities and behaviors. None of which would matter much if Hall didn’t really sell her character’s disintegration. Margaret’s life comes crumbling down as David’s demands become increasingly harsh, heightened by her fear for her daughter’s safety. It’s remarkable the way Hall’s physicality alters the feel of the film’s space — the well-appointed spaces that she once commanded become increasingly like prisons, boxing her in. The real show-stopper is a remarkable 10-minute monologue that Hall delivers directly to the camera, wherein she details her abuse at the hands of David. It’s horrifying, and heartbreaking, and there’s no doubt that she’s telling the truth (which makes it all the more distressing when she goes to the police to file a restraining order only to be turned away). It all builds to a shattering conclusion, a woman pushed to the edge who has no choice but to finally take matters into her own hands. The film ends on a strange, tentative note, haunting in its implications. It’s a fantastic piece of work, with Hall giving the kind of performance that would garner awards consideration if any of them took genre film seriously. Seek it out anyway.