This review of Andrew Semans’ Resurrection is part of our 2022 Sundance Film Festival coverage. For more reviews and essays, visit our Sundance tab.
Pro-tip for filmmakers hoping to make their feature stand out from the crowd — cast Rebecca Hall in a lead role. Sure, she does strong work in smaller roles like The Prestige (2006), Starter for 10 (2006), and The Town (2010), but as a film’s lead? Watch Christine (2016), Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (2017), and The Night House (2020), and you’ll see a talent that makes good films great and great movies even better. Resurrection is the latest good film to take advantage of Hall’s gifts casting her as a woman whose mental state begins to crumble when someone from her past comes calling, but not even she can overcome an unsatisfying ending.
Maggie (Hall) is an accomplished executive at a biotech company with a daughter at home and a married man on her speed dial. Her life is a controlled climb upward, but she hits a wall when she sees a familiar face at a business conference. She has an immediate panic attack and rushes home to make sure her daughter is safe. Who is David (Tim Roth) and what did he do to make her so afraid? Is he Abbie’s (Grace Kaufman) estranged father or someone from even further back in Maggie’s life, and why is she dreaming about finding a baby in the oven? Soon Maggie’s grip on life is rippled with anxiety and fear, and as David’s intentions come clear she’s forced to confront both head-on.
Resurrection is a thriller about manipulation and emotional abuse, but what feels at times like a riff on Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) instead finds its own footing with a different take on the tale. The path it takes is one rooted heavily in real-world issues like stalking and gaslighting, but writer/director Andrew Semans also injects some more surreal elements into the mix. The chemistry doesn’t quite work as teases of the fantastical are so sparse as to stick out uncomfortably from the film’s more grounded base.
Maggie’s emotional descent after David’s arrival leads down a tricky road as the character strays far from the capable and strong protagonist most viewers will be hoping for. Past trauma rears its head, and the film explores the power some events and people can have on us even many years after the fact. It can be difficult to appreciate, though, as we watch a strong character give in to a threat rather than fight it — something that can feel unnatural to those lucky enough to have avoided life’s harshest lessons — and it’s on that count that Hall’s talent and performance become most valuable to the film.
Resurrection lives and breathes on Hall’s turn as a woman whose personality and accomplishments regress in the presence of a man from her past. It’s a tough sell, but Hall makes Maggie’s struggle real enough that those regressions feel like emotional gut punches rather than character betrayals. We hate to see her consent to the “kindnesses” that David requests — they’re not what you’re thinking — but they leave us feeling the unavoidable weight of her undisclosed trauma and memories. Roth keeps apace with Hall, but where we ache for her his David is a man we just want to see dropped off a very tall building. He’s ego and sadism with a five o’clock shadow, and he makes for a terrifying villain.
So far so good, but Semans trips over his own setup as Resurrection hits its third act. After successfully delivering a mostly grounded thriller about trauma and self-control, the script’s finale gives up on the latter to go out in memorably bonkers fashion. It takes a leap, one that hits with real ferociousness, but what could have worked within the lines of Maggie’s mental state instead commits to a bit that’s ludicrous on its face. Too many horror films, particularly of the “elevated” variety, have abused the notion of an ambiguous ending. This is a film that would have benefited from such an uneasy conclusion, but instead a single shot answers a question better left unresolved leaving the whole far more unsatisfying than it began (while also leaving a whole host of other questions yammering for their own explanations).
Both the cast and Semans’ direction prevent the ending from tanking the film, though, and instead it serves to mar only some of what Resurrection gets right. Maggie’s feeling of overwhelming anxiety becomes our own as she races through the streets, fear contorting her face to memories we can’t yet see. Semans and cinematographer Wyatt Garfield slowly turn a modern, populous city into an unfamiliar place, and the effect adds a chilliness to the film’s atmosphere.
A less talented lead would have left Resurrection as little more than a mild thriller with “that” ending, but Hall raises the bar for all involved. She forces viewers to rethink their understanding of a protagonist’s choices, actions, and limitations, and she delivers a mesmerizing descent and rise in the process.
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