In an opening scene of Resurrection, a film by writer/director Andrew Semans, premiering at Sundance Film Festival, Margaret, played by Rebecca Hall, counsels a young female intern who is having problems with her boyfriend and warns her about the dangers of sadists. In that moment, although nearly imperceptible, there is a shift in Margaret that makes it clear that the comment is coming from a deeper place than simple collegial advice–it feels personal. And thus begins the slow burn of Resurrection, a psychological trauma—sorry, drama—that features an earthquake of a central performance by Hall which will burrow under your skin and make you shiver long after the credits roll.
Margaret seems to have her life together, she is an executive at a big biotech company in Albany and lives a comfortable life with her teenage daughter, Abbie, played by Grace Kaufman. Other than engaging in a secret affair with her married coworker, played by Michael Esper, Margaret seems to live a relatively uneventful life, until she attends a work conference, where she recognizes a man from her past, causing her to have a panic attack. The man (an enigmatic Tim Roth) had traumatized Margaret twenty-two years earlier, a man who she believes killed her infant son, a man who had total psychological control over her until she was finally able to break free and run away to start her life anew. When he suddenly reappears in her life and threatens to exert the same control over her that he had twenty-two years earlier, Margaret begins a descent into madness that merges elements of trauma, grief and fear into a jumbled stew of psychological horror that is all at once excruciating and exhilarating to watch.
Resurrection is one of those rare films that hardly even needs a story or a script, as it is centered on a single performance, not driven by plot points but by emotional markers, and its success or failure is based wholly on whether or not the central performance is capable of carrying the audience on the journey. It doesn’t take ten minutes to realize that Rebecca Hall is not only capable, but she is extraordinary. Bristling with an intensity similar to her haunting and gut-wrenching performance in Christine, Hall navigates Margaret’s trauma with a cold-bloodedness, portraying a desperate woman clinging to her sanity with a panicked ferocity, slipping in and out of a waking nightmare, daring us to question what is real.
Semans toys mercilessly with concepts of reality and sanity, blending memory with grief, taunting his protagonist with hope, only for her to lose the grip of the rope in the quicksand. The audience is teased as well, as its unclear even to us what is real and what isn’t, what is nightmare and what is a dream. And just when we might have an understanding of which way is up, the film’s final sequence upends everything, throwing everything into question, forcing every perception to be challenged, every reality to be doubted. Or, better put, Resurrection’s ending lends itself to a giant, “What??”
But easy answers are not what Resurrection is about. It is about diving deep into a traumatized psyche and swimming around in it. It is about reveling in performances that will shock and surprise, and possibly even scare you. As if Hall’s award-worthy performance wasn’t enough, Tim Roth delivers a thoroughly creepy performance that will make your skin crawl as much as it will make your blood boil. Watching Hall and Roth together is a master class that we wish could go on forever.
Kaufman also deserves a hefty amount of praise for delivering a tender and grounded performance as the voice of reason and genuine concern in Margaret’s life, despite playing a large part in her continued mental decline. It’s hard enough to be a teenager, it’s even harder still when your mother is weirding out, tracking your every movement and warning you of danger around every corner. Abbie provides a much-needed emotional baseline for the audience, and Kaufman hits the perfect balance of scared and soothing for us to hang on to.
Resurrection is a psychological thriller, with all the elements of the genre, including a slow burn, an increasingly-tense atmosphere and a third act that brings everything to a gruesome boil, but those elements–all due respect to Semans—are a dime a dozen. What truly sets Resurrection apart, and what makes it memorable, is Rebecca Hall’s searing, raw and emotionally excavationary performance that will make you want to take cover under your seat. This is a performance worthy of conversation for not just the next year, but the next decade. Treasure it.
This review is from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute | Wyatt Garfield