About halfway through Resurrection, Rebecca Hall delivers a nearly eight-minute monologue about her character’s past that is so riveting, so mystifying and terrifying that you shouldn’t be surprised if it shows up in every acting class sometime in the near future. What makes the scene powerful, however, isn’t so much the words as it is Hall herself, whose face and voice have always suggested a land of uncommon, uncomfortable wonders. She can exude resilience and fragility in the very same breath — as if somehow the stronger she is, the more vulnerable she becomes. That turns out to be the perfect register for this unusually tense psychological thriller.
Hall plays Margaret, a fastidious single mom and biotech exec living in Albany with her increasingly independent teenage daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman). Margaret is a control freak who likes everything spare and orderly, and doesn’t like attachments. The closest thing she has to a romantic relationship is an emotionless, no-questions-asked affair with a married co-worker (Michael Esper). Then one day, she glimpses a face from her past that tears her world apart: David (Tim Roth), a man with whom she had a demented and abusive relationship 22 years ago. Almost immediately, this woman who seemed so confident turns into an exposed nerve. And as soon as she unravels, we understand why she’s been so careful, so self-contained up until now.
To say further would probably reveal too much about the precise nature of David and Margaret’s relationship, and about certain surreal claims this figure from her past makes that may or may not be true. As David, Roth is a slithery vision of indescribable smugness. His character is a master of suggestion, whose casual hints slowly turn into sly insistence. He may not be physically imposing — frankly, he seems downright nebbishy — but the man exudes pure menace. And yet, you can also see how someone could fall under his spell.
The charm of Resurrection (which is being released by IFC Films theatrically and on demand, and will later stream via Shudder) lies in the fact that, after a while, you have no idea where the movie is going or how it will resolve itself. Much of the credit goes to the performers, but writer-director Andrew Semans also creates a mood of cosmic suspense, where we’re guessing not just what will happen next, but what kind of movie we’re even watching. Is it a straight up psychological thriller, grounded in the real world, or something more demonic and supernatural?
Even the ultimate answer to that question doesn’t actually answer the question. For all its outrageous twists and turns, Resurrection maintains its existential ambiguity right to the end, and we never quite know if what we’re seeing is on the level. Semans consistently frames Margaret apart from other characters, which conveys her closed-off nature, but also suggests a kind of dreamlike cocoon — which might prompt us to ask how much of the world beyond the frame is even real. Early on, Margaret tells her daughter that she started drawing again, after a 22-year hiatus — the exact period of time that she’s been away from David. Has opening her imagination back up conjured monsters from her past? This is a character who lives in her head, but at one point we may begin to wonder if we, the audience, are also living there. By asking such questions, Resurrection manages to be gripping. And by refusing to answer such questions, it manages to be unshakeable.
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