TEXAS, USA — It isn’t so simple to suggest that things aren’t quite what they seem in “Resurrection,” Andrew Semans’ terrifically acted and moderately deranged new thriller in which the established benchmark for normalcy amounts to a mother-daughter relationship so toxic that the latter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), is counting down the days to when she can skip town.
We can hardly blame her, given the ticking-timebomb manner through which we’re introduced to Margaret (Rebecca Hall), a perpetually uneasy business executive who gets by on regularly scheduled reminders that she’s the alpha in every relationship, right down to the married coworker she has on speed dial for lonely late nights. She’s seemingly had the life experience to know what she’s talking about when she tells a young intern “you should find someone who makes you feel good,” but not the psychological bandwidth to reckon with whatever emotional trauma causes her running form to look like Tom Cruise is skipping through sunflower fields by comparison.
Whatever she’s sprinting away from, it might’ve done Margaret well to look over her shoulder. The past is at the forefront of Semans’ wild effort—first via sweaty implication, then literalized in the form of Tim Roth as David, Margaret’s former partner and a forked-tongue manipulator. That the film’s title suggests not only a new form to be taken, but also, crucially, an ambiguous history to inform said resurrection gives Hall and Roth dramatic ground just fertile enough to nourish their spectacularly fiendish performances, and the best reason to catch this movie. For most of its 100 or so minutes “Resurrection” plays like a hellish riff on “Before Sunset,” the co-leads’ conversations defined by dread and reiterated by our uneasiness over whether the details of their past are horrific truth or lunatic fiction.
The movies have not been wanting for maternal meltdowns as of late, as the keyboard Oscar campaigners of Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”), Toni Collette (“Hereditary”) and Essie Davis (“The Babadook”) can attest. And while it’s past time that Hall, an established freakout maestro, joins that cohort of dubious horror heroines, there’s something to be said for her captivating ability to jostle between predator and prey with the manner of someone carrying dynamite on a spoon. Even as “Resurrection” hurtles towards inevitably bleak conclusions, Margaret remains a bundle of explosive nerves whose decisions we’re hesitant to fully condone, lest we snip the wrong wire and set off something potentially worse.
And yet the film plays like an enigma. Semans doesn’t slide narrative pieces neatly into place so much as he lets off wisps of dramatic smoke, obscuring Margaret’s reality and complicating our sympathies towards her. You might find yourself wondering who’s telling the truth, or what of the most surreal moments we see are even real—the disorientation is appropriate for a movie in which it’s hard to tell inner demons from past demons. That makes for an engaging story about the excuses we make to stay in positions of control, though emotional insight doesn’t come as naturally to Semans as his penchant for spinning an anxiety-riddled experience that throws the timeline into question and the lives of those in Margaret’s inner orbit into chaos.
That she’s sketched as a victim of freakish circumstances creates an impish irony given her most successful method of bonding with her on-the-cusp-of-18 daughter is by getting her drunk. David may be the explicitly antagonistic force in “Resurrection,” but perhaps Semans’ boldest suggestion is that neither of these two people deserve to escape the barbed wire they find themselves in. The film’s got a darkly absurdist streak reminiscent of Ari Aster, but the climactic resurrection of “Midsommar” is an electrifying thing to ponder while Semans’ finale clumsily, though certainly not unmemorably, tries to justify obvious ultimatums.
The past is a slowly unsheathing blade in “Resurrection,” and part of the movie’s halfway-effective trick is having us obsess over how sharp its edge is when the real question is whether there’s anything attached to the hilt at all. If it isn’t clear by now, there will be no happy endings in “Resurrection,” though whether you think Margaret finds her salvation – and why – might be closer to what Semans is interrogating with his fire-and-brimestone tale.
"Resurrection" is not rated. It's now showing in San Antonio theaters. Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes.
Starring Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper
Written and directed by Andrew Semans
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