Rebecca Hall is a force of nature. If her performances in films like The Night House and Christine hadn’t already proven that, her work in Resurrection does. The new psychological thriller from writer-director Andrew Semans stars Hall as a woman whose life is thrown into disarray when a man from her past unexpectedly returns. The film’s premise makes it out to be a fairly straightforward thriller, but Resurrection is anything but that.
Rather than taking the obvious path, Semans uses his heroine’s unfortunate twist of fate as a launchpad to send Resurrection into increasingly unexpected and disturbing psychological places. The film, which runs just 103-minutes long, is a Cronenbergian descent into madness — one that feels as deeply indebted to the work of filmmakers like David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman as, say, Brian De Palma. At its best, Resurrection is able to achieve a kind of nightmarish dream logic that is as disconcerting as it is involving.
But at the center of all of the film’s various twists and turns is Hall, whose performance here is a startling and, at certain points, literally breathtaking spectacle to behold. Her raw, towering turn as Resurrection’s lead both roots the film in a necessary emotional reality and single-handedly helps propel it further and further into the darkest corners of her character’s mind. She’s the anchor that makes the film’s nightmare of a story feel real, and it’s only because of her performance that Resurrection’s third act manages to achieve the morbidly cathartic highs that it does.
Ghosts of the past
Resurrection follows Margaret (Hall), a successful businesswoman who takes pride in the strong but guarded relationships she maintains in her life, including those she shares with her lover, her coworkers, and her daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman). At the start of the film, Margaret has grown used to projecting an image of strength and stability onto herself and her life. However, when she spots David (Tim Roth), a man from her past, at a business convention, Margaret quickly begins to lose control of the fragile life she’s built for herself.
For much of the first half of Resurrection, the details of Margaret and David’s relationship are kept unclear. The film makes it obvious that David is a likely sinister force, and there are reasons to believe that he may have had something to do with a number of recent, odd events that have befallen Abbie and Margaret. But in a brilliant bit of plotting, Semans reveals the complete, horrifying truth of Margaret and David’s history together about a third of the way through Resurrection.
The revelations come one after another in a long, unbroken monologue that Hall’s Margaret gives while sitting in her darkened corporate office one night, and the scene marks a major turning point in Resurrection. Not only is it the moment when the full scope of Margaret’s trauma is laid bare, but it’s also when Resurrection begins to disconnect from reality and exist in an odd kind of liminal space, one where the worlds of a barebones revenge thriller and an uncanny, Lynchian nightmare are joined together.
A punishing reunion
The details of Margaret and David’s toxic bond are so horrid that they both explain everything that happened in Resurrection prior to Hall’s monologue and efficiently set the stage for the film’s surreal, gruesome final two-thirds. While the specifics of the duo’s past are best left unspoiled, it’s a testament to Semans’ writing that they feel simultaneously too grisly to be true and undeniably authentic. That uncanny dichotomy not only allows Resurrection to inhabit a more dreamlike space in its second half but also creates an emotional foundation for the film’s Bergman-esque third-act twists.
The nature of Margaret and David’s relationship also requires that the latter be played by an actor capable of matching Hall’s intensity and on-screen power. Fortunately, Tim Roth, who has long been adept at playing laidback sleazeballs, is more than up for that challenge. His first scene in the film efficiently establishes David as an unassuming but sinister counterpart to Hall’s Margaret, and Roth manages to do more with one quick grin than most other performers could.
Semans’ script, meanwhile, effectively begins to ratchet up the film’s tension and dread from the moment that David is formally introduced. From that point on, Resurrection becomes a descent into desperation and isolation, with Margaret’s desire to permanently rid herself of David growing at the same pace as the increasing helplessness she feels about her situation. As a result, Resurrection manages to constantly alternate between feeling like a tight thriller about one woman’s quest for revenge and a psychological drama about the lingering impact incessant gaslighting and abuse can have on a person’s mind.
While Semans’ script does lean too far into allegory at certain points throughout Resurrection’s second half, Margaret’s journey with David eventually culminates in a third-act climax that is one of the tensest and most horrifying that you’ll likely see in any movie this year. The film follows Margaret’s quest for closure to its bitter end and, in doing so, refuses to offer an easy resolution to its story. Instead, Resurrection delivers a conclusion that attempts to find a fragment of catharsis through only the most gut-churning of means, one that highlights just how lonely it can be to grapple with your own trauma.
Whether or not the film’s giddily gruesome ending is cathartic enough will likely be the subject of much debate, as will many of Resurrection’s third-act twists. The film is an uncompromising and often unpleasant investigation of emotional trauma, and the conclusion it reaches at the end of its exploration may simply be too cynical or bleak for most viewers. But like a dream that leaves you shivering and paranoid, Resurrection is an experience that’s hard to shake.
Resurrection hits theaters on Friday, July 29 and on-demand on August 5.
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