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Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorehead’s feature directorial debut is an invigorating reminder that talented, original voices occasionally surge forth from the festival circuit grind. (Their film was chosen as an Official Selection of both the Tribeca and Fanstasia International film festivals.) As a meditation on horror films, and even film itself, Resolution might be in danger of coming across as pretentious, if it weren’t so damned entertaining throughout.

As the movie opens, Michael’s (Peter Cilella) very supportive wife (Emily Montague) gives him her blessing in making one last attempt at getting his best friend, Chris (Vinny Curran), to sober up and rejoin the world before he self-destructs. After driving out to the middle of nowhere (based on the Google Map link he was sent), Michael finds his buddy running through his stockpile of ammunition and crack. It takes Michael very little time to decide there’s no use trying to convince Chris to self-admit to a rehab clinic, and enacts Plan B: tasering his friend, handcuffing him inside the grimy cabin, and warning off local drug dealers with an aluminum bat.

Cilella and Curran exhibit the easy chemistry of childhood friends who have seen addiction and major life events batter their friendship. Their strained bond is as understandable as it is funny and heartbreaking. Michael’s actions, altruistic as they may initially seem, are slowly revealed to be as self-centered as Chris’s (a man who, behind the years of substance abuse, is shown to be passionate and highly intelligent). In other words, these are fully lived-in roles that make both characters effortlessly identifiable, even as they discover increasingly bizarre?then genuinely alarming?objects turning up in the cabin. Michael has already gotten his friend through the most difficult first days of his withdrawal. Should he stop now, just because the strange coincidences seem to ratchet up the more he tries to dismiss them? Besides, Michael clearly doesn’t enjoy feeling coerced any more than Chris.

Unlike so many horror/thriller films, Benson’s script never cheats its internal rules, or the audience out of the fun of following along with those rules. For example: It’s a given in films nowadays that cell phones don’t work when the characters need them, but Benson recognizes that such clichés present an opportunity to demonstrate his protagonist is a sane, reasonable individual—Michael occasionally drives out to where he can catch some bars on his phone. These short trips also serve to flesh out dimensions of both character and plot. He probably should tell his wife about the unexpected difficulties, but he’s in charge of his life, damn it, and he doesn’t want to worry his newly pregnant spouse. This reasonable character flaw makes Michael able to justify himself, and inevitably adds additional flavor to the films’ diabolically witty conclusion. Leaving the cabin also allows him to come into contact with creepier denizens of the area than drug dealers (including an outstanding turn by Take This Lollipop’s Bill Oberst Jr. as a reclusive scientist), all of whom represent a distinct horror trope competing for primacy as the reason the unexplained keeps asserting itself. Like Michael’s self-justifications, each of these tropes comes across more reasonably than the last.

Resolution will, justifiably, draw comparisons to Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods. While Goddard and Whedon’s horror sendup/celebration is tight and devilishly clever in its own right, it’s only because its more superficial components?timing of release, tag team filmmaking credit, cabins in woods and a story whose twist pivots on an expressed and sincere relationship with the viewer. But as Benson began work on his script 10 years ago, the similarity is more the result of concurrent, separate generation than any attempt to mimic Cabin’s formula. (That’s coming, soon enough.) But while both movies are outrageously engaging entertainment, Resolution ultimately achieves a little more with substantially less handholding (and even less budget). Plus, in a month that’s traditionally barren and typically populated by movies studios mercifully spared the indignity of the straight-to-video chopping block, Resolution stands out even more.

Films like Resolution, regardless of their genre trappings, are not only the reason independent film is so important to the industry, but to cinema in the greater sense. They announce important new creative voices to a jaded public (and an even more jaded studio system apparatus). They amuse as much as they stimulate audience discussion after the credits reel. In the case of Resolution, let’s give this particular devil its due.

Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorehead
Writer: Justin Benson
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Zach McClarnon
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013 (limited)