All hail Rebecca Hall in Andrew Semans’ fiendishly tense cat-and-mouse game of trauma and motherhood
An insurmountable challenge arises for any creative team when tackling subjects of faith and trauma. Possessed with or brutalized by the right belief system, we can be compelled to say or do anything, but it’s far harder to convince an audience that a film’s characters can be equally compelled to fall for this ideal, this person. To do so successfully requires a rare alchemic synergy between talent behind and in front of the camera. Fueled by impeccably unsettling and increasingly unhinged performances by Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth, Andrew Semans’ Resurrection all-too-successfully traps its audience within the fractured faith of its leads, a psychological thriller that provokes and coaxes us to surrender to its sadistic sway.
Margaret (Rebecca Hall) is by all appearances a successful, order-driven biotech exec whose control over her life is ironclad. Lately, though, her grip is slipping, as she reckons with her daughter Abbie’s (Grace Kaufman) impending departure for College, along with an on-off series of hookups with her co-worker underling Peter (Michael Esper). Any illusions of control evaporate with the sudden reappearance of David (Tim Roth)–a greasy-haired, toothy-smiled specter from Margaret’s buried past who feigns ignorance and innocence until he gradually makes clear his intentions for Margaret and her family.
Following in the vein of past Sundance shockers Hereditary, Take Shelter, and Saw, Resurrection is one of those gut-churning descents into madness and disbelief that demands as little be spoiled about it as possible. With that disclaimer, though, what can easily be praised about Andrew Semans’ sophomore feature is how his taut, efficient screenplay plays so deeply into the strengths of his lead actors, creating an unshakable feeling of dread and unease that barrels through the film’s runtime to a breathtaking finale. What’s more impressive, however, is just how fragile that feeling is throughout. Rebecca Hall’s commanding presence onscreen has been evident through films like Christine, The Night House, and The Awakening, where even the deepest push into mayhem is met with fierce tooth-and-nail resistance; likewise, Tim Roth’s ability to take on chameleonic, genre-pushing roles with equitable commitment renders him an equally unpredictable and unwaveringly interesting actor. Semans’ script, which landed him a high ranking on the 2019 Black List, begins as a conventional thriller before making sharp genre shifts that would make fans of Peter Greenaway or Andrej Żuławski raise their eyebrows–and it’s a daunting task to make those wild tonal shifts feel not just logical, but inevitable. By pairing such contrasting actors who are at the top of their game throughout, and placing their primal fight for control and dominance center stage, Semans creates the feeling that Hall’s Margaret and Roth’s David are capable of literally anything together…infusing Resurrection with the same kind of manic blood-draining dread as something from the Safdie Brothers’ filmography while maintaining the measured pace of an experimental theater chamber drama.
The best example of this is early on in Resurrection’s runtime, as we shift out of the first act in an unbroken, seven-minute take of a Rebecca Hall monologue that lays Margaret’s secrets bare. By refusing to cut away to flashbacks that illustrate the veracity of Margaret’s confession (a wisely cut tactic present in the original script), Semans and Hall imbue this figure of control and authority with a shocking amount of potential unreliability. They provoke Resurrection’s audience to either pull the ripcord, check out of the film, and hate everything that might come after…or stay on for the ride, wholly committed to the hellish places we’re about to go.
Semans is careful, however, not to overload us with these push-and-pull scenes between Margaret and David, keeping most of the film’s attention on how the threat of his presence is enough to send her spiraling out of control. To be completely honest, Roth’s limited screen time is one of Resurrection’s best assets, rendering each of his unpredictable appearances the equivalent of, say, the creature from It Follows. It also allows Semans and Hall to further illustrate the consequences of David’s influence on Margaret even decades after their last meeting, as Margaret begins to exert the same domineering authority over Kaufman’s Abbie. As well-intentioned as her motherhood may be, Margaret reveals herself to have internalized David’s worst tendencies as much as she’s tried to distance herself from them.
It’s one of many threads throughout Resurrection that provides a fresh and compelling take on gaslighting and lingering trauma that separates it from its fellow captivating “elevated horror” brethren. Semans, Hall, and her co-stars are more than eager to see the consequences of their themes through to their bitter, bloody conclusions rather than just letting them linger, finding captivating and provocative areas for post-screening discussion out of how Resurrection chooses to tackle these themes rather than letting their presence speak for themselves.
Building up to an exquisitely tense jaw-dropper of a finale, Resurrection features a crackling and thematically dense script by Andrew Semans brought vividly and viscerally to life by powerhouses Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth.
Resurrection had its World Premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it was acquired by IFC Films and Shudder for U.S. distribution later this year.