Movie Review: “Resurrection” — Turning Words into Weapons
By Betsy Sherman
Rebecca Hall gives Resurrection the psychological grounding it needs, as the thriller expands to macabre, fable-like gain.
Resurrection, directed by Andrew Semans. Video-on-demand streaming
Rebecca Hall is the compelling presence at the center of Resurrection. The feature, written and directed by Andrew Semans, is one of a subset of recent thrillers (directed by male filmmakers) that explore the damage toxic masculinity has done to female protagonists. Like at Leigh Whannell The invisible Man and the Surrealist by Alex Garland Men, it’s the belief invested in the lead actress (Elisabeth Moss and Jessie Buckley, in these cases) that gives the viewer something to cling to, when the film itself isn’t entirely cohesive. room gives Resurrection the psychological grounding it needs, as it expands to macabre, fable-like gain. Despite its hiccups, the film has enough substance in its more serious aspects and enough jawbone in its scary parts to make it worth watching.
Hall plays Margaret, an executive who values toughness — physical and mental — above all else. It’s a value that she tries to instil from the opening scene in her young trainee, as in the girl she raised alone. His daughter Abbie is about to turn 18 and head off to college.
Margaret has an athletic body, a stylish wardrobe, and a compartmentalized life that includes casual sex with a married colleague. At a biotechnology conference, listening to a presentation, Margaret lets her eyes wander among the men in the room. When they spot a certain middle-aged man, in a split second, the distance between her and a trauma from her youth collapses. She runs out of the room. Tim Roth plays David, the man she loved when she was 18, but who emotionally abused her in a situation that, as we learn more, seems like a classic case of gaslighting. Margaret fears that David will attack her daughter.
This is a story of PTSD and its impact on generations. Margaret has kept her past a secret, but she recounts the backstory of her abuse in a monologue (delivered by Hall in seven minutes, with no cuts). A solitary teenager who loved to draw, Margaret traveled with her biologist parents from Britain to a research station on an island off the west coast of Canada. David, a British scientist about 20 years her senior, took an interest in her. She fell in love with him, happy to be his “muse”. Her parents let her move in with him, then they went home. In this isolated environment, the older man created a world of rituals and euphemisms with which he controlled his young lover, eroding her sense of self. After a heartbreaking tragedy, Margaret escaped and built a life for herself.
Part of that life was having a child independent of any connection to a partner. It is thanks to Margaret’s protection as a mother that David can now continue his gaslighting (the infiltration begins with the placement of a mysterious tooth). Once Margaret confronts David, the film enters the realm of thriller. Although we follow her stalking him, it becomes apparent that he is still the cat and she is the mouse.
What detours Resurrection A far cry from the standard victim-turned-avenger routine, there’s an absurd — and rather admirably sick — claim from David. He planted this seed in Margaret’s mind years ago, and it still has the power to unbalance her. I won’t reveal what its claim is, but it does give the film a welcome touch of unpredictability akin to that of Italian giallo horror. A horrible narrative passage turns out to be a nightmare. But does it also represent something real? Or is it just a hallucination?
One of ResurrectionThe bumpier shifts between drama and genre film involve the alarm we feel for Margaret’s daughter. Maternal concern for Abbie’s safety turns into its own form of abuse: Margaret forbids the teenager from leaving the apartment, first lying about why. Grace Kaufman does an excellent job in this difficult role: first she is treated by her mother as a friend, but finally she becomes a prisoner.
Hall, who is returning to acting after directing last year’s stunning film Who passed, does not overtly try to make Margaret likeable. However, despite the character’s flaws, it’s hard to stay intact as we watch her sob in exhaustion and terror after her fights with David. Roth (star of one of my favorite releases this year, To sleep) makes David an unexpected mix of sleazy and cunning: he suggests a tenured professor at a small liberal arts college they just can’t get rid of. Speaking clearly and firmly, he turns words into weapons. David claims that the endurance tests he put “Maggie” (as he calls her) through in her youth made her a warrior; if true, he is likely to be the object of his assault.
And it’s so nice that the couple can speak with their British voice in the American setting. This separates them into a small psychodramatic bubble, bubbling in our midst.
Betsy Sherman wrote about movies, old and new, for the boston globe, boston phoenixand unfit bostonian, among others. She holds a degree in Archives Management from the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science. When she grows up, she wants to be Barbara Stanwyck.