“I’m the only one who can see you.”
It’s a wonder any movies about domestic abuse ever get made. In fact, I struggle to think of too many titles that have tackled such an issue since it’s perhaps the most anti-audience sub-genre around in the eyes of studio executives. Whenever I think of abuse shown on film, my mind typically goes the TV movie route, where plenty of depictions and definitions of abuse have been presented to great, and sometimes boundary-pushing effect. That makes little difference on the big screen where (with some exceptions), the subject of spousal abuse remains woefully underexplored. Using the thriller format, the new film Resurrection is at least one effort to make this sad fact less true with exciting performances and a portrait of abuse that’s as painful as it is powerful.
In Resurrection, Rebecca Hall stars as Margaret, a successful corporate executive who lives with her soon-to-be grown-up daughter Abbie (Grace Kauffman). Apart from an ongoing affair with married coworker Peter (Michael Espe), Margaret’s life is blissfully dull and uneventful. When she spots her ex David (Tim Roth) suddenly back in town, she’s thrown into a frenzy as memories of the abuse she suffered during their relationship give way to a growing determination to not let him anywhere near her new life.
Resurrection does plenty right in terms of its ideology and mechanics. The film illustrates the abuse Margaret endured in such a visceral way, it doesn’t need to provide us with flashbacks to show how David’s hold on her began or the various acts he made her suffer through to drive the horror home. It simply lets us imagine it and feel it. But Resurrection is also a film about trauma and how a person can very much still haunted by it decades after the abuse has ended. The way this comes across on the screen is played out best in seeing David and Margaret interact. While he displays the ultimate form of manipulation, it’s an unstoppable obsession to take him down that consumes her. David’s hold on Margaret is apparent and so strong, that he knows he doesn’t need to be explicitly violent; he imparts fear in her soul simply by being in the room. Meanwhile, we watch as she gets progressively unraveled with no one in her small circle able to help.
Where Resurrection very nearly lets its character and subject matter down is in the element of a dead child from the past. At one point, it’s explained that Margaret and David had a son who died under very horrible circumstances. The latter uses against the former by making her believe the child literally exists inside of him. Admittedly, the filmmakers attempt to use this story move in an effective way, but it quickly backfires since it’s not only incredibly ludicrous but also challenges the sanity of the main character to the point where it almost feels as if the film is laughing at her. Resurrection is never able to fully escape the device of the dead child and its ending is almost entirely dominated by it. By the time the movie reaches its climax, it opts for a rather surreal conclusion that feels only slightly better than no ending at all. The problem is that the film exists far too long in the real world (and does so much right while it’s there), that it’s difficult to accept when it decides to leave it.
After last year’s The Night House, it would have seemed almost impossible to find a role that proved a better vessel for Hall’s mix of intensity and command. Resurrection proves otherwise by providing a character worthy of her. Hall gives Margaret the kind of panic and fury that’s sprung up as a result of seeing David again, but the real marvel is watching her compellingly bring out the character’s history of pain and damage in a way that instantly bonds the audience with her. Hall works well with Roth, himself turning in one of his best performances in years. The actor plays David with just the right balance of control and gleeful menace that’s needed for David to be a credible villain, helping the film to work as well as it does.
As you may have gathered, I was not a fan of the path Resurrection took towards ending what had mostly been a well-meaning and well-made film. Is this movie completely undone by the way it wraps up its story? In many ways, yes. The film introduces a tool in order to further highlight the dark nature of the horror that existed between Margaret and David only to have it come across as outlandish and insulting to both the audience and the character. Is Resurrection worth writing off simply because of this and other decisions it made down the line, however? Absolutely not.