Director: Andrew Semans
Stars: Tim Roth, Rebecca Hall, Grace Kaufman
Margaret (Rebecca Hall) keeps an ordered life. She lives with her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) in a minimalist, high-ceilinged middle class two-storey apartment. An exec at a pharmaceutical company, she keeps her workspace immaculate. She runs, pushing herself. She has a pragmatic sexual engagement with a married co-worker (Michael Esper). But the schedules and precisions of her universe are to be shattered by the return of a shadowy figure from her past; David (Tim Roth). His very presence tumbles Margaret into disorder. Suddenly she’s running out of abject fear.
At work Margaret provides sage council to a young employee (Angela Wong Carbone) who is seeking the empowerment to extricate herself from a suffocating, toxic relationship. The source of Margaret’s staunch feminist advocacy seems directly tied to the past she’s running from. She has skin in this game, but has she successfully won her own battles? Clearly not, as David’s initially benevolent presence in the margins of her life consistently undo her. Irrational behaviour persists, and escalates. Given the title, we’re led to some dark assumptions about who David is and what he represents.
Hall – who exec produces here – is a certified talent, whose openness of late to genre films has been welcome and fruitful (didn’t check out The Night House? Catch up). Andrew Semans’ Resurrection has found a home on horror streamer Shudder in the UK (and is coming soon to blu-ray), but lands some distance from the spectral creeps of David Bruckner’s aforementioned flick. In this sense it feels as though Hall is helping to represent the diversity of the genre, as this outing tunnels into more mundane (yet more terrifying) domestic terrors.
Unable to prove that David is harassing her, Margaret reacts proactively to being dismissed by the system. Changing the locks, etc. These are measures we’ve seen countless times in TV and at the movies before, textbook examples taught to us by a litany of thrillers. Resurrection drags up a long-standing history of women cornered into protecting themselves. When it finally comes time for us to know the history, Semans captures an extraordinarily controlled monologue from Hall in one long, gripping take; the centrepiece of a film about holding one’s self together when life surreptitiously throws you (back) into dark places. Resurrection tells a somewhat sensational story, but does so in a manner that – for the most part – isn’t sensationalist. Semans keeps this as mannered and controlled as the life Margaret finds herself fighting to retain.
David is revealed to be an exceedingly controlling influence over Margaret. One might even read it akin to Fifty Shades of Grey with all the faux-romanticism and sexual bruhaha stripped away, so that the abusive powerplay at the centre is exposed for all to see. This is something entirely separate from consensual and/or gratifying BDSM play; this is actual sadism, plain and simple. And, most insidiously, a kind that is predicated on mind games and cerebral control over brute force. Resurrection succeeds at invoking the oppressiveness of this. Hall is its coolly empathetic focal point.
Jim Williams – purveyor of a-typical genre scores for the likes of Julia Ducournau and Ben Wheatley – again goes to show you can swirl tension around an image without resorting to cliché. Here, in some of the film’s more propulsive moments, he dabbles in Jonny Greenwood-esque itchy refrains. Elsewhere he provides a coldly metronomic counterpoint to a kind of struggle that goes days and nights. For Margaret, terror is a marathon, not a sprint.
If Resurrection has a contemporary bedfellow, it is perhaps Chloe Okuno’s Watcher. Both feel the pressure of very human external menaces, both tread familiar paths but twist the narratives just enough to feel more attuned to our present era of refusal and rebuke. But where Okuno worked at us with the threat of the unknown, Semans channels the known but inescapable. Or the fear that the known could be inescapable. It’s a hard run. Impressive, well-articulated and manifested, but also (appropriately) humourless. As such participating can feel rather gruelling and thankless, even though this is entirely the point.
Affection and warmth does exist here in patches (the way Margaret calls Abbie “Smidge”), but David’s shadow falls long over the picture. Home to a bloody – and bloody strange – conclusion, Resurrection is a solid recommend, but one wonders the mileage it has for re-watches simply thanks to how successfully grim it can be running breathlessly alongside Margaret through all her tribulations.
Still, who’s out there right now keeping pace with Rebecca Hall?