Rebecca Hall is the gripping star of Resurrection, an unhinged, uneven thriller that ends up being too deranged for its own good.
Premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year, the latest movie from writer and director Andrew Semans is a horror-tinged story about suppressed trauma fully carried by Hall’s masterful turn as Margaret.
Sleek bob and impeccable power suits, the protagonist has her whole life in order: she jogs religiously, excels at her corporate job, and has cast her spell on her always available, married lover Peter (Michael Esper). But this boss bitch type, dishing sound advice on confronting toxic boyfriends, has one weakness, cracking her cold and aloof veneer. It’s her teenage daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), whom Margaret attempts to control to the point of smothering her.
While it may seem that Hall’s character is hyper-protective of Abbie as a result of her controlling nature, it soon becomes clear that something far darker lurks beneath the flawless image the lead strives to project.
Resurrection cracks Margaret’s perfect surface
In Resurrection, Margaret’s seemingly perfect existence begins to unravel as she spots a menacing figure from her mysterious past. Anticipated by some inexplicable, supernatural occurrences, her former lover David Moore returns, bearing the features of a bone-chilling Tim Roth.
Suddenly, David is at a conference that Margaret attends, at a park and in other public places right when the protagonist happens to be there. It’s a subtle form of stalking, one that Margaret can’t prove to the local authorities, as the scene with a police officer perfectly illustrates. They can’t do much unless David openly threatens her, the cop says, implicitly admitting that to protect and serve only goes so far.
Margaret has to take the matter into her own, increasingly shaky hands. David’s disturbing smile contradicts his kind words and throws the protagonist into an unusual panicky frenzy, one that risks upending her relationships and career.
Particularly, the protagonist becomes aggressively concerned about Abbie’s safety, though she doesn’t provide any explanations for her obsessive attitude. Her silence only manages to tear apart their mother-daughter bond weeks before Abbie is off to college, metaphorically severing that umbilical cord that Margaret wants to preserve.
Rebecca Hall Carries Resurrection on Her Shoulders
At first murky, the reasons why the protagonist is terrified of David — and righteously so — are spelled out in a chilly, compelling eight-minute monologue. In conversation with a young intern, Margaret scavenges in her repressed pain from a lifetime ago, a staggering scene that confirms Hall’s dedication to the role.
The audience learns that an older David charmed an 18-year-old Margaret into an abusive, sadistic relationship a couple of decades prior. Their unbalanced dynamic saw David bending the young woman’s will to make her do terrible things.
Without indulging in spoilers — and depriving viewers of the perverted pleasure of discovering the most fucked-up twist of Resurrection — the film zeroes in on Margaret as she displays alarmingly erratic behavior. She’s a pure concentrate of anger, both aimed at David and her past self, but she’s also not completely immune to her ex’s eerie magnetism, caving to his soothing words with self-destructive consequences.
This coercive relationship that has come back to haunt her has Margaret spiraling as she begins to suffer from panic attacks, and yet, she still gives David the time of day. She’s on her own, after the police let her down. Their unhelpful response shows a lack of knowledge of abusive relationships, with the abuser often wrapping their despicable actions in layers of charms.
A Confusing Third Act
Like other cryptic thrillers, Resurrection, too, puts its protagonist’s sanity on the line. The story unfolds as Margaret descends into the abyss and leaves her studied perfection behind, with the frantic camerawork mirroring her inner turmoil pushing to get out.
Hall plays the character with such intensity and commitment she is able to sell an unconvincing film about abuse and unprocessed trauma. The film feels like a rambling study of grief that’s hard to piece together. As the audience is in on Margaret’s secrets, Resurrection turns grimier, bleaker, and wilder, making for an uneasy watch that’s difficult to sit through.
It’s not for everyone, and it might require more than one watch for the themes to simmer down. The final confrontation is especially puzzling, leaving room for several theories that may all be equally true, so long as one still cares at this point. The third act doesn’t wrap up all of the loose threads but only manages to complicate things further in a challenging, shocking last scene that’s every bit as chilling as it is confusing.
Hall’s powerful performance glues this ambitious, yet not always effective, experiment together. Hers is a mesmerizing, career-best turn that will be hard to shake off. Resurrection, on the other hand, may be too ambiguous for some to fully appreciate.
Stefania Sarrubba is a feminist entertainment writer based in London, UK. Traumatized at an early age by Tim Curry’s Pennywise and Dario Argento’s films, she grew up convinced horror wasn’t her thing. Until she sank her teeth into cannibal movies with a female protagonist. Yum.