In departing from short films and DIY-indie feature films, indie filmmaker Andrew Semans delivers shocks in the involving and bizarre Resurrection. The ever-riveting Rebecca Hall stars as a pharmaceutical company representative, and Tim Roth as an ex-lover who returns to her life and follows her to an unexpected place in this sophomore film with mostly just a few characters. The film offers a wrenching performance from Rebeca Hall and generates some uneasy tension that continues its intense momentum well into the third act, which in its own conclusion is bizarre in its shocking and ambiguous finale that doesn’t quite work well on an abstract or narrative level.
As the aptly titled Resurrection suggests, Seman’s title represents how the past can resurrect us from our own personal demons, and there are other revelations that I will not spoil that take the film into a more Japanese horror realm that echoes the work of Takashi Mikee or Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The film, from Semans’ own script, plays off our collective fears of abusive relationships, stalkers, and our lives being threatened by the ones who are supposed to love us. But while satisfying thriller elements are present, the arrangement is just thriller movie basics—including a mysterious build-up, a very verbose middle (with a great monologue from Hall) and an inanely implausible conclusion—that prevents Resurrection from becoming an unnerving journey into modern zeitgeist paranoia. An extremely well-paced thriller that breezes by with its 103 minutes (including credits), with Tim Roth in a secondary role with a menacing presence, suggests a mostly impressive horror framework that hits on many levels, yet misses in the payoff.
After proving herself as being one of the most impressive actresses of our era, Hall plays Margaret Bailon. Between her job at the pharmaceutical office job, she’s also a single mother to her teenage daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman). In many ways, Margaret runs her office as if it’s an HR room as she holds open dialogue and listens and consults with her younger employee named Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone), in which she allows Gwyn to open up about her emotional distress created by her boyfriend. Margaret sounds like a pro at relationships with her advice, yet she is single, not married, and doesn’t even have a boyfriend. She does have a casual hook-up with her fellow co-worker, Peter (Michael Esper), who also happens to be married.
Margaret is a very independent woman and a strong-willed mother who appears to have a very healthy and supportive mother-daughter relationship with Abbie, who’s a senior in high school and is about to go off to college. Margaret’s life begins to unfurl into anxiety and panic once a very mysterious stranger named David Moore (Roth) begins to appear in her whereabouts. She first spots him at her company’s open conference in a hotel, where she quickly exits out of the conference room. Yet she begins to notice him all over town, in department stores, on sidewalks, and eventually at a park bench near her apartment. She realizes that this is not a coincidence and that he is in fact following her where her past certainly inflicts doom and resurfaces trauma back into her life.
The set-up feels like another stalker thriller, alas Watcher, but the film goes in unexpected directions with some deeper characterizations that are upheld well by Hall. Once Margaret has the courage to confront David, the tables begin to turn as David places himself as a victim as he subtly ridicules her with guilt and shame as he constantly rubs his belly as if he was pregnant and insinuates that their dead child cryptically lives inside of them and that he is inside him now. He even mutters Gwyn’s name, which instantly startles Margaret into her protective mother state, where she combats David but is left overpowered by his strength and psychological mind games that leave her emotionally and psychically drained.
Like her role in last year’s impressive The Night House, where she played a grieving wife tormented by her dead husband’s past, Hall proves once again she is a skillful actress who can express so much anxiety and emotion in a single performance. She gives it her all, and you can see her tremendous growth as a creative actress as she molds these roles with such gripping naturalism and frail vulnerability. She gives such raw performances while also appearing frail. She doesn’t miss one false note in her performances here. Hall, who is never afraid to get ugly for her art, goes to some extreme depths and dark places in her performances here. In one riveting, unbroken shot, Seamen observes just how drained she is from David on a mental and physical level. She can hardly move as she looks out the window with chapped lips, her body drained as she tries to recharge herself. Her obsession with David leaves her distraught. She shields her daughter from the turmoil, but Abbie can sense she is losing control of her sanity. Hall delivers again, especially in a deeply unsettling monologue that echoes Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona uncut monologues, where Margaret opens up about her past with David to Gwyn and how their baby was murdered in cannibalistic details, leaving Gwyn in complete shock of the details. She even disbelieves the story and asks if Margaret’s story is even real as it seems too bizarre and disturbing to be true. The shot is left on Hall’s face mostly throughout, and it’s delivered with such raw intensity.
Courtesy IFC Films
As the film unravels in the third act, it feels like the third act of Watcher, as Margaret begins to stalk David herself. She goes to extreme lengths to protect her interests and those of her daughter. The film also begins to take more surrealistic turns into its abstract finale, which holds a very gruesome scene of some body horror akin to David Cronenberg and Andrew Zulawski. The finale also feels just as brutal as any Japanese horror you would see. It’s a haunting climax, but the payoff isn’t quite as rewarding or even believable. Had Semens kept it more internal and psychological like Bunuel or old-school Polanski, the abstractions and surrealism would have worked to a greater degree. Instead, the film bounces between literalism and surrealism in the very final act, which isn’t quite on par with the previous set of events that occurred in the film outside of a brief nightmare Margaret has of a dead fetus in an oven. The end result feels more like an act of provocation than a catharsis. Perhaps more revisits and analysis will change my mind, but for now they feel like missteps where the strategy doesn’t quite reach the effectiveness that is needed, though the scene will make you queasy.
On a visual and technical level, the film impresses with some impressive staging and meticulous cinematography by Wyatt Garfield. Together, Garfield and Seamons mostly stage the shots in push-ins with some longer-lenses in the close-ups that heighten the emotions on display. It’s as well-crafted as any big-budget horror film, but the vision or artistry never feels compromised, and the edits feel motivated rather than lazy cutaways, as we’re accustomed to seeing in films. The film is very well-polished, and Seamon’s talent as a potential auteur is evident. Like Alex Garland’s controversial and polarizing surrealist horror film Men, this movie is also about a woman attempting to seclude herself from her past traumas, yet her past eventually catches up with her where she is left confronting her past afflictions. Also, like Garland’s vision, this is one of the year’s most audacious films that defies the familiar stalker movie tropes and becomes more of a manifestation of human trauma with its opaque surrealism. For the most part, the film succeeds with its acute moment-to-moment buildup all the way up until the precarious finale, and until then, there isn’t one wasted moment or overstated emotion.
Resurrection is now playing in Limited Theaters and opens wider in the coming weeks.