Perhaps the most important thing to note about writer-director Andrew Semans’s new film, “Resurrection,” is not that it is horrifying, but rather that it is grippingly horrifying. It may be described as a “psychological thriller,” and while those words are true, they fail to quite capture the thing.
Front and center in the movie is Rebecca Hall as Margaret, a single woman raising a teenage daughter and succeeding in her career at the same time. When we meet her, she is giving personal advice to Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone), someone she supervises at work. It is, seemingly, good advice about making sure that Gwyn’s relationship is a healthy one. It gives us a picture of Margaret as a kind and compassionate boss.
Slowly, we learn more about Margaret – she’s in a relationship with a married man, Peter (Michael Esper), and tries to keep that separate from her daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman). Margaret is caring, kind, considerate, intelligent, and in control of her life. She is strong, confident, and as we come to learn, that entire shell of personality is easily removed. Margaret is a complete and total wreck.
Therein lies the film.
Hall and Semans peel Margaret back, layer by layer, giving us the woman underneath and the reasons why Margaret’s past trauma affects her still to this day even if she has tried to put it behind her. The more we learn, the more we understand, the more we want to understand. Hall’s performance is beyond powerful, beyond engrossing, it is other worldly. The anxiety and fear and horror the audience has for Margaret is palpable.
It is not just Hall that makes this work. It is not just Hall and Semans. Opposite Hall, playing David, a mysterious man from Margaret’s past, is Tim Roth. Roth’s David is a hypnotic villain. He is a man we truly think could have done that which Margaret accuses him of, while at the same time Roth convinces us that we do not want to believe a word of it.
Hall’s Margaret is a woman we can see and understand and care for, a woman whom we watch as she fights a battle against herself and starts losing. We become emotional as we witness Margaret try to master her own emotions against the exceptionally calculated onslaught from David.
With an unhurried pace, Semans sends us down the rabbit hole with Margaret, with our own sense of what is happening too often lining up with hers. It is not necessarily that we believe as much as we believe she believes but maybe more so that we wonder whether the movie exists in a world where David might be telling the truth.
If I am being obtuse here about the specifics of Margaret’s past, the specifics of what she undergoes in the film, the specifics about the dramatic shifts in her relationship with Abbie, it is only because to delve into them would be to risk hampering the experience—the wonderful and horrific experience—of what happens her.
Not a film for the faint of heart or the squeamish, “Resurrection” is as engrossing as the subject matter is off-putting. Beyond the fact that the story of Margaret and the slipping of her control will stay with you after the movie finishes, the mastery of Hall’s performance will stick around as well. Top to bottom, start to finish, “Resurrection” is disturbing in the best of ways.
photo credit: IFC Films