A thriller based around the embodiment and repurposing of patriarchal trauma, Resurrection is far more seething and straightforward in its B-movie ambitions than other films that seek to ostentatiously elevate their horrors. Almost all of that is due to Rebecca Hall’s intense rigidity in performance. As a woman who once escaped her abusive partner, Hall unfurls the blueprints of her altered architecture. Where once we could imagine the give and flexibility that betrays our humanity, there is now inhuman structure. If Kafka’s Gregor unexpectedly awoke metamorphosed into a beetle, Hall’s Margaret painstakingly forged her own protective carapace. Writer/director Andrew Semans’ sophomore feature pulses with black-hearted humor and cruelties so odd as to be undeniably believable, but it’s Hall’s expressive transformation that drives the film’s blood into its final manic fever.
Margaret is driven there thanks to the gaslighting return of David (Tim Roth), a slippery creep made entirely of need. His calculated demands sadistically dehumanized Margaret as deeply as she defensively dehumanized herself in the aftermath. And that’s not even mentioning their infant son that David claims to have eaten alive. Right. There’s a strange undercurrent to the film’s familiar outline, a dark magic that gives us a peek at the nearly supernatural power David once wielded over Margaret. He threatens to wield it again as he blows back into Margaret’s life.
The prediction inherent in her daily, Terminator-like, arm-pumping runs comes true: He came for her. She’s been preparing for this moment, this man, since she made her eventful escape. And don’t worry, we hear all about it. That expository scene, like the best of them, is bundled in such bravura filmmaking (a tight, long take on Hall, capped with a bleak and gasping punchline), that you hardly recognize it for what it is. Much of Resurrection is like that, tastefully hiding its seams and scars behind stylish performances and toe-curling stress.
Semans has that rhythm down. Tense, release. Tense, release. Roth and Hall play with our expectations there, ratcheting up and up and up during their supposedly chance encounters. So too does Grace Kaufman, playing Margaret’s daughter Abbie. She’s as fresh and honest as her role is perfunctory. Abbie is the endangered next generation, the same age as Margaret when she made her life-derailing mistake, and the symbol of Margaret’s ability to impact the world, the future—hell, anything at all—in a positive way. She’d be a bit of a tepid story-driver as a character without Kaufman’s nuance, which makes her a winning voice of clear-eyed (yet still enjoyably immature) reason. Together, the cast finds plenty of unexpected ways to interact, taking even the most familiar scenes in directions peppered with unpleasantly strange detail.
But the film lives and dies by Hall. Her deeply affected businesswoman attacks life with a nearly experimental verve. It doesn’t matter if she’s in a field of cubicles or under a shady midnight bridge. Stiff and uncompromising, breaking down to the opposite once David has reclaimed some of his old (and ruthlessly evil) power, Hall’s performance tells Margaret’s story more potently and directly than a scene-long soliloquy ever could. It’s just the latest showcase for Hall’s skills, packaged again in an aesthetic as heightened as her own ambitions. She’s one of the most exciting performers working today and Resurrection inspires jaw-dropping work. We’re all lucky she’s picking projects that allow her room to grow far beyond stories where things like “realism” matter.
Despite appearances, Resurrection isn’t all that real. It spends its least engaging sections justifying its own predicament as it pertains to a world with laws and etiquette. But its battle is deeper. Darker. Margaret’s warped perspective empowers Resurrection: Its minor conflicts and dire premise need logical justification as little as its balls-out bold finale; its themes work as well as they do because they’re enhanced by a nightmarish tone, one verging on the mythical. When it all clicks in a hotel room showdown you deserve to see for yourself, it reveals the weakest parts of the film as needlessly concerned with authenticity. But seeing Hall’s power bring new life to the struggle against the ubiquitous curse of men, it’s hard not to fall under Resurrection’s cynical spell.
Director: Andrew Semans
Writer: Andrew Semans
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone
Release Date: July 29, 2022
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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