Spoilers follow for the film Resurrection.
For most of its running time, Resurrection relies on our doubt. Director and writer Andrew Semans knows we should believe women when they talk about abuse, but he also knows the individual and systemic barriers that often keep them from being believed and uses that tension to cast Rebecca Hall’s character, Margaret, as a potentially unreliable narrator. The film is purposefully ambiguous about what Margaret suffered until a final act that, regardless of its sense of “reality,” puts a uniquely bloody spin on the established pregnancy-as-body-horror subgenre. It’s unexpected nightmare fuel, and we should talk about it!
Resurrection (now available on demand) drops in on biotech executive Margaret as she carries on a normal, if overly tidy, life with her 17-year-old daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), who is leaving soon for college. Margaret is overprotective enough that it’s clear something awful happened in her past. But her recurring requests that Abbie call and text her to check in seem to come from a genuine place of love. Her mothering becomes smothering, though, when the mysterious David (Tim Roth) begins to appear everywhere Margaret is, from a park outside her work to a store where she and Abbie are shopping. We learn Margaret was involved with the much older David when she was 19, and the rules of order she’s maintained in the 22 years since she left him have functioned to distance herself from David’s grooming and brainwashing.
It’s not enough. Margaret’s fortitude collapses rapidly when David reappears. “I just feel a bit off,” she says as she hears phantom knocking on her apartment doors, imagines a cooked but still alive baby in her oven, and limits Abbie’s time outside their home. A skeptical viewer could consider all this an overreaction until Margaret’s first interaction with David points to a history of mind games (he denies knowing her, then claims she just introduced him to Abbie, who is not there) and a tragic loss: the decades-ago death of their infant son, Benjamin.
What actually happened to Ben is the film’s core mystery, and Semans offers differing explanations. Per Margaret, David tried to get her to abort Ben, and when she carried the baby to term and loved him more than she loved David, he sent her out on an errand so he could murder the baby. “Two of Ben’s fingers on the counter. That’s all that was left,” Hall says in a lengthy monologue that perfectly expresses her “brittle until she breaks” acting style, as also seen in The Night House. In the film’s only (and welcome) funny moment, this monologue is delivered to an intern at Margaret’s work who absolutely did not need to know this about her boss. But David’s version of events is creepier and more inexplicable: He claims that Margaret abandoned Ben, so David kept him safe by putting their son in his belly. “Ben is with me. Right now, here,” he tells Margaret while gesturing to his torso, and he insists he hears Ben crying for his mother and feels him reaching for her. “I took good care. He’s here, thanks to my charity,” David says. In the second half of Resurrection, he blackmails Margaret into performing some of the same tasks he had forced her to during their relationship — like stress positions and endurance tests — in exchange for continuing to keep Ben safe.
This is all psychological abuse that works on Margaret because she’s been conditioned to believe it, right? Ben isn’t actually alive inside that man’s stomach, is he? Resurrection leaves room for uncertainty as Margaret unravels, inadvertently pushing Abbie away despite zealously vowing to keep her safe and starting to refer to her “children” as she cuts her married lover (Michael Esper) out of her life. All of this is what David wanted, of course, so Margaret can belong to only him, and Roth is most horrifying when he casually speaks the language of domestic abuse: threatening Ben (“You kill me, you kill him”), blaming Margaret (“He can’t understand why you allowed this to happen, why you let him get hurt, why you ran. What kind of a mother abandons her child?”), and attacking her core identity (“I’m the only person that can see you, who really knows who you are”). All of this comes to a head when David invites Margaret to a hotel room so she can finally be with Ben because “nothing will heal you, nothing except him.” The bland atmosphere of that darkly lit, drab hotel room contradicts the hostility between the former lovers.
Resurrection’s penultimate scene adopts a literalness that falls in direct opposition to the precarious reality Semans had built previously, and the switch is jarringly effective. David invites Margaret to touch his stomach, and Margaret first recoils in shock at what she feels before collapsing into contrition: “Hi, baby, my baby,” she sobs. Semans keeps the camera tight as Margaret’s grief transforms into ferociousness and she attacks David with knives hidden on her body. Their tussle is ugly but short as Margaret wins the upper hand, then ties David up, slices open his torso, and pulls out his intestines, with rivulets of blood staining the hotel sheets and carpet. As Margaret reaches inside David’s stomach to pull him apart, we finally get confirmation of whether David was telling the truth: A little baby’s face peeks out from the viscera. “It’s good to see you again. I saved you,” Margaret says as she lifts out infant Ben and soothes his cries. Resurrection commits to the reality of this moment. There’s no synth-y musical cue from composer Jim Williams to question Margaret’s sanity, and no final-gasp, not-really-dead moment from David. Ben is resurrected, and he and Margaret are reunited, and her madness was a weapon, not a weakness.
Pregnancy as an uncontrollable means of transformation is a long-established horror convention, and for the most part, films in this tradition speak to the destructive terror that can accompany housing another living being (Prevenge, Antibirth, The Brood) and the external demands that can infringe upon someone once they become pregnant (the gaslighting of Rosemary’s Baby and False Positive). There’s the inside-out change of the former and the outside-in pressure of the latter, and the singularity of Resurrection comes from how it fuses those two approaches. David taking Ben within himself is like a fun-house mirroring of Margaret’s past pregnancy; it undermines her command of her own body (leading, perhaps in part, to her strict exercise regimen in the present day) and mimics the nurturing and protective abilities she considers unique to motherhood. And while David shamed and rejected Margaret for being unable to stop her pregnancy, he’s able to hold Ben in stasis for 22 years, a one-upping of physical ability that he uses as another dig against her.
In occupying both roles as impregnator and the person who was impregnated, David removes Margaret from her own story, a disintegration of selfhood that takes the tenets of this subgenre one step further. Alex Garland’s Men does something similar in depicting cis men with the ability to birth themselves, but that film’s treatment of male pregnancy as an extension of the patriarchy was too broad for its own good. And comedies about pregnant men — such as Ivan Reitman’s Junior, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, and Emma Thompson — use the physical discomfort of pregnancy as a punch line rather than what horror has increasingly done, which is comment on how social norms around pregnancy and motherhood can be colored by sanctimony and spite.
In having Margaret kill David and reclaim Ben for herself, Resurrection seems to end with a statement about the unshakable bond between mothers and children (even if they are born out of traumatic circumstances) and the fulfillment that reunification can provide. But what to make of the fact that the film keeps going? In its very last moments, Resurrection goes back to the apartment Abbie and Margaret share, which is now full of light and brightly decorated, as if the space itself had shaken off the haunting memory of David. As Margaret rocks a swaddled Ben, Abbie thanks her for having “made everything okay, so I’m not scared,” then takes her younger half-brother into her arms. All seems well and good, until Semans zooms in on Margaret’s face. Williams’s foreboding score pipes in, and Hall expels one last shuddering gasp. Resurrection leaves us with the question of whether this was real or surreal, but before then, it tests the limits and limitations of our bodies and our minds.