I’m not sure there’s anything worse than the fear of losing a child…
…No matter how old children get, they’re always that baby in their parent’s eyes, and the fear of failing to protect them never dissipates. In writer/director Andrew Semans’ sophomore feature, Resurrection, which just had its world premiere at Sundance, that fear is captured in a way you won’t soon forget.
Resurrection stars the incomparable Rebecca Hall as Margaret, a successful, confident woman who seems to have the mental fortitude of a brick wall. Other women come to her with their relationship problems. The men in her life respect her. She’s a beacon of strength. That is until her abusive ex, David (Tim Roth) returns after twenty years, causing Margaret to believe he is after her daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman). Soon, Margaret begins to spiral, with no one around willing to trust her instincts other than herself.
If you’re not already a fan of Rebecca Hall, Resurrection is about to change that. Last year, Hall delivered one of the best performances of 2021 in The Night House, and here she does it again with Resurrection. There is a power to Hall that is undeniable. Margaret is a challenging role, a woman crumbling under the tortured memories of her past and the unexplainable terror over her future, yet Hall somehow makes it look easy. A psychological horror flick that never retreats from Margaret, Resurrection forces us to be casual observers of Margaret’s devastating decline into extreme paranoia, and Hall is as compelling as ever.
It’s January. It’s way too early to call Hall an Oscar contender for her performance. But I’d be shocked if she’s not in the running.
Resurrection is, more or less, the nightmare scenario of any mother brought to painful reality. That’s because while Margaret is struggling with the sudden appearance of her manipulative ex, she’s also dealing with the fear of losing a daughter who is scared of her and her overprotective nature, plus a lover, Peter (Michael Esper) who is falling for her, something Margaret is far from ready for. Resurrection brings about something dark and uncomfortable and frighteningly real, which is that feeling of being so afraid to lose someone, that you push everyone away at your own expense. The isolation of that is excruciating, and it makes up much of the horror of Resurrection, that idea that no matter how badly you try to hang on to those you love, you can’t stop pushing.
Resurrection sets Margaret up to appear so put together early on, that it is soul-crushing to watch her spiral into someone we barely recognize. This film does not shy away from pain. It embraces it. Semans frequently uses long, unblinking takes to let his characters monologue and vent the most tortured pieces of themselves. It forces the audience to confront pain in its purest form, and it’s absolutely enthralling.
No surprise then that Resurrection is a bleak experience filled with overwhelming dread. We’re in Margaret’s head, and that’s an uncomfortable place to be. Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography sets the bleak mood with a grey palette that grows darker and darker throughout. Any sort of welcoming light is absent from this film. It’s dreary. It’s cold. It pulses with an energy steeped in a manic anxiety that screams from deep within Margaret.
It’s all the symptomatic trauma of another horror which Resurrection explores in unblinking fashion: the abusive manipulation of men. David has a history of a Jim Jones-like control over Margaret that she has fought for twenty years to overcome. Roth is magnetic in the role, imbuing the character with a serpentine sliminess, his controlling words slithering out, practically mocking Margaret like a devil on her shoulder. Scenes between David and Margaret are infuriating in how controlling he is. David uses phrases like, “this calls for a kindness,” implying Margaret owes him somehow for being upset at such a little thing like threatening the life of her daughter.
Resurrection lays down the mortifying truth of the controlling nature of men and the struggle which women go through to not just escape that grasp while in it, but to keep from ever being held in those hands again. If that’s a theme you’re uncomfortable with, then Resurrection probably isn’t for you. This is not an easy film to watch. It isn’t all that violent—though it certainly has its moments—but the emotional agony which Hall so brilliantly expresses is at times unbearable.
I can prepare you for how emotionally shredding Resurrection is. What I can’t prepare you for is how bizarre this film is. A little bit Lynch. A little bit Cronenberg. Semans takes the concept of toxic masculinity forcing a mother into paranoid fear and indulges in that nightmare. For the most part, Resurrection remains grounded through performances that feel real and personal, but the more Margaret crumbles, the more surreal the world around her becomes. It’s honestly impressive that Semans manages such an intimately tragic tone mixed with wild and weird moments that’ll either have your jaw on the floor, scratching your head or both. Resurrection swings for the fences and ends up hitting the ball into outer space. You won’t believe your eyes.
Resurrection is an impressive debut feature from Semans. It’s an emotional whirlwind brimming with tension and presented with an unflinching look at the trauma caused by toxic men. It’s a disturbing subject matter that may alienate some viewers—especially when the weird of it all arrives—but for those willing to brave the leap, it’s a cathartic experience worth the hard journey.
By Matt Konopka