To play with your audience’s sense of security is always one way a filmmaker can really take their viewers on a ride — to maybe first lead on that we’re witnessing something quite familiar only to slowly unravel that we actually might not be. That’s more or less the case with Andrew Semans’ Resurrection, a film that’s first act leads you to expect you’re getting another movie about a “hysterical” and/or gaslit woman sent down a hole of self-doubt, only for its broadly familiar skin to be peeled back to revel something sort of deranged lurking from within.
The aforementioned, possibly gaslit woman is Margaret (a stellar Rebecca Hall), who works as some kind of corporate biologist at an Albany office job before she becomes quickly unmoored by the sudden reappearance of a strange man, David (a magnetically sinister Tim Roth), whom she shares some kind of history with. The details of their shared past are very much best left unspoiled, as instead Resurrection slowly gets under your skin by unfurling such a backstory, the biggest reveal coming in a laying-all-the-cards-on-the-table monologue given at the end of the first act, as Hall — so captivating in an unbroken eight-minute close-up that you hardly notice the darkness creeping around her shoulders and subsuming her body into shadow — unloads Margaret’s deepest secrets on an unsuspecting intern, who has no idea how to comprehended them and just settles for a faint, nervous chuckle as a response. If it wasn’t already clear before, it’s in this knockout scene that we realize that this probably won’t be the movie where the credits roll as Margaret triumphantly stands over David’s dead body while she comforts her teenage daughter (Grace Kaufman) and the police profusely apologize for not taking her seriously. If anything, the fact that this is composer Jim Williams’ follow-up to his work on Titane, should hint at enough.
And in a faintly similar vein as Titane, Semans’ movie maybe stands out most for how it so purposefully walks the tightrope between being a schlockfest of a typical thriller and something of a more art-house lens. A more rigid or overtly-stylized movie would probably have been counterintuitive against Margaret’s powerlessness, while a sloppier one would have likely distracted from the desperation of her grip. And Resurrection is, if anything, entirely about everyone’s grip; how the need for absolute control is nothing short of a death trap (with Wyatt Garfield’s somber, tightly controlled cinematography emphasizing that). As a woman who was once groomed by an older man and has since spent the entirety of her adult life fighting to reassert the agency she surrendered as a teenager, Margaret gives it her all to exert a Kubrickian authority over every detail of her life. Her daughter’s father isn’t in the picture, and one starts to ponder if that’s because Margaret didn’t want anyone else to get in the way of her as the sole parental influence. Hall’s performance, ironically hyper-precise, suggests a kind of female Patrick Bateman who’s not overtly terrible person; her ruthlessness and eccentricities never detract from the sincerity of her love for her daughter, or the sense that she’s always just a nudge away from coming completely undone.
Such a relationship with her daughter is one of the film’s more devious emotional concoctions; as Margaret’s precisely controlling way of life comes under fire, not just from David’s presence, but the prospect of her daughter leaving home and going off to college where anything might happen to her — it’s such a fear that it pushes Margaret even more to the brink, especially as she was exactly the same age when her own parents failed to protect her. And it’s the way that Resurrection uses that charged dynamic against Margaret that carries much of the film through its rocky second act, and eventually pays off its slender plot, which probably could have benefited from just a little more meat on its bones.
The way that David abruptly pulls her back under his thumb doesn’t really make a lot of literal sense, and yet Margaret is powerless to resist. Which at hand sets the tone for a film that constantly threatens to kill her with kindness. It’s Margaret’s obsession with keeping her daughter safe that actually puts the girl in danger; it’s her fear of the world that makes it so frightening; it’s her need to project strength that allows a sixty-year-old biologist to make her into his plaything. None of this is her fault, and yet all of it will have to be confronted in order for Margaret to regain any measure of agency, a tug-of-war that allows Resurrection to largely be a heady psychodrama while still leaning towards that aforementioned schlockiness, with an ending that doesn’t exactly stick the landing. It’s with no doubt that this would’ve very well be a disastrous mess in lesser hands, and Seamans’ shoot-for-the-heavens big swings might very well have some people laughing, but after seeing so many movies delve into a woman’s trauma for cheap thrills, it becomes interesting to see one so eager to move beyond that. By the time Resurrection arrives at its inevitable, if still misguided ambiguous final shot, the absolute reality of Margaret’s trauma will no longer be denied. Directed with a chilly distance and a relative sense of derangement, Resurrection in the end might not be able to fully sustain its premise, but it’s a startlingly incredible Rebecca Hall that keeps the film alive.
Resurrection premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. It’s currently seeking distribution.