Writer/director Andrew Semans’ “Resurrection” is an extremely good film; one that knows how to build sustainable tension and a superbly crafted, unrelenting atmosphere of dread.
An excellent Rebecca Hall stars as Margaret, a single mother and successful businesswoman (she is the top representative for a major pharmaceutical company) who seems to have a “take no prisoners” attitude when it comes to her corporate dealings in the workplace.
Emotionally guarded, Margaret shows compassion for a young underling who is going through the tribulations of a modern dating life, but her advice is stern. As the film will reveal, her outlook on relationships comes from traumatic life lessons that have colored every step of her adulthood.
Margaret chooses to steer clear of and romantic entanglements, choosing only to engage in sexual release with a colleague. The sex scenes are presented as almost joyless. There is certainly feeling and the two parties are engaged in the act of getting off, but this is purely primal, as Margaret would never let a man to breach the defenses of her emotional wall. When it is over, she doesn’t want small talk or cuddling. The act and the man have served their purpose. Time to go.
Margaret’s daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) will soon be leaving the nest for college. They seem to have a good relationship. On surface levels, theirs is a normal single mother/daughter relationship, but there is something in Margaret’s voice; something behind her eyes when she looks at her daughter, who finds mom a bit overprotective.
Separation is not something to take lightly here and she wants to keep Abbie protected from an unsafe world.
Hall proves (as she did in last year’s excellent horror film “The Night House”) she is a master of tight emotion. The intensity the actress portrays in every look is incredible. In an already gripping picture, Hall’s work keeps the audience riveted. It is a harrowing performance straight from the actor’s soul that solidifies Rebecca Hall as one of modern cinema’s finest performers.
Enter David (Tim Roth, in one of the best roles the actor has had in years), a man from Margaret’s past. He is soft-spoken and aging but is revealed to be a dark figure from Margaret’s past, very much a monster who left physical and emotional scars on her eighteen-year-old self.
When Margaret first sees David, her rigid demeanor is destroyed. The wave of fear is instant and physical, as she begins to almost crumble from head to toe in a wave of emotional panic.
David begins to appear everywhere, polluting the safety of Margaret’s life. Her traumatic experience with David caused the move to another coast, forcing a change of identity. Now, with her world tightly constructed and meticulously looked after, here again is the monster from her past.
The film reveals the two were together a little over 20 years ago, but this was no symbiotic romantic relationship. In an incredibly acted moment, Margaret tells her coworker Gwyn of their terribly barbarous and demented “coupling” that resulted in the horrific murder of their infant son.
We share Gwyn’s shock at this most heinous tale. The director holds tight on his star, selling Margaret’s conviction in a monologue as riveting as any I have ever witnessed.
Semans has crafted a psychological horror film that pulses with an exceptionally authentic examination of trauma.
It is the rare modern horror film that is about something more than scares. Semans’s screenplay brings a studied focus to the lifetime effects of extreme physical and mental abuse on one’s psyche.
The director’s work here elicits earned comparison to Anderzej Zulawski’s 1981 “Possession”, a grim masterwork of a man and woman unraveling that is one of the most intense cinematic presentations of outward human emotions ever put to film. Both pictures stun with their lead performances (Isabelle Adjani in Zulawski’s piece), each one taking their respective audiences on dark and terrifying journeys.
Once David begins to take his Svengali-like hold on Margaret once again (after the unsettling confession that he is carrying their dead son inside his belly), the film opens a door into the surreal.
Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography tilts the film’s solemn aura and begins to use the shadows found in the Albany, New York locations to question our perceptions towards Margaret’s reality. The imagery becomes less sharp, breathing in the quiet of the dimly lit night streets and chipping away at the confines of the character’s structured existence.
The already unnerving subject matter is heightened to almost unbearable levels of tension through Garfield’s great visual stylings and director Seman’s tight grip on the material.
While there are a couple of minor factions within the screenplay that might not add up under closer scrutiny, the strong drama combined with Rebecca Hall’s striking and heartbreaking performance drive Andrew Semans’ chilling vision.
“Resurrection” is a gripping and sometimes terrifying film that effectively serves as both horror and thriller, but (most importantly) excels as a strong character piece.
Written and Directed by Andrew Semans
Starring Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman
R, 103 Minutes. IFC Films/Secret Engine/Tango Entertainment