Margaret (Rebecca Hall) seems to have it all: corporate success, a well-adjusted teenage daughter (Grace Kaufman) heading to university, a casual fling with a co-worker (Michael Esper), and the body and mind to power through punishing runs every evening. She is trusted, stable, and in control, unruffled and wise when co-workers confide their personal troubles to her. But one day she sees David (Tim Roth) at a biotech conference, and her tightly-constructed life seems ready to collapse. Now the sharp observation of her surroundings and the ferocity of her evening runs seems rooted in something other than high achievement, and the ghastly images she encounters waking and sleeping threaten to unearth an unspeakable past.
Andrew Semans deftly establishes an astute ability to manipulate psychological terror in Resurrection. Horror and motherhood are perennial bedfellows, and this relentless thriller questions the (im)possibility of breaking a cycle of abuse even before the abusive party resurfaces. Hall’s mesmeric, full-body performance – restless fingers, round shoulders, and the pounding of her feet on the city concrete – belies Margaret’s anxieties even before she begins to share them with the audience. The camera lingers on her face and body, letting stories and histories come to life organically.
A third of the way through the film, she delivers a gut-wrenching monologue simply, straightforwardly, flinching with the memories without letting them overcome Margaret – while the camera stays glued to her face. Her voice is even without monotony, coloured with emotive remembrance while avoiding histrionics. Any cuts towards her witness or to the past, which she brings to life through heartbreaking honesty, would break the terrible spell. Hers is one of the best monologue performances of the year, showcasing the oft-maligned cinematic form’s full weight and power.
She is equally adept at playing against Roth’s almost-reptilian charm; for his part, Roth proves himself once again one of the best villains-next-door working today, mutating from harmless passerby to malignant force with the tweak of a line delivery. The film creates the most compelling and rich heroine-versus-villain dynamics in horror cinema since the 2020s The Invisible Man.
Hall and Semans, who also wrote the script, also fully understand the myth of the ‘perfect’ victim. Margaret is prickly, suspicious, and overbearing – partly as a result of her experiences, partly (it seems) due to a driven, obsessive nature that migrates towards black and white thinking. The toll these behaviours take on their daughter and lover is never written off as a product of her past – a fascinating addition to the drama that ratchets the tension with each small, well-meaning clash.
Semans’ camera is similarly restrained yet unflinching. While what comes to light is horrific, the showing and telling of it are pitched precisely where this film needs to be. Resurrection walks a fine tightrope between domestic horror and something weirder, perhaps even of the supernatural. Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography picks up these weird tricks of shadows and light in extremely mundane settings, finding satisfying ambiguity in the current events while reinforcing Margaret’s trauma and the real, valid terror she storms against.
If Resurrection trips at the one-yard line, it does not fumble. The complete commitment and immersion into darkness carry the film into a realm of multiple truths and open ends. The effect does not nullify or throw doubts about the abuse Margaret faced and faces; instead, it drags the full weight of abuse on body and soul to the light, where she – and the audience – must stare it in the face.
Resurrection played as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
by Carmen Paddock
Carmen is a Pennsylvanian transplant to Glasgow who writes about film, television, and opera. A lover of maximalism and musicals, much of her writing focuses on cross-media adaptation. Favourite films include West Side Story, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ludwig, Cabaret, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Moulin Rouge!. She holds a Masters in International Film Business from the University of Exeter / London Film School. Follow her on Twitter @CarmenChloie