resurrection, now available to rent or own on VOD platforms like Amazon Prime Video, captures the always great Rebecca Hall in familiar scary movie form as a nasty ex returns to continue the psychological torment she escaped all those years ago . But Andrew Seman’s careful, confident direction and a handful of unexpected script choices allow this awakening nightmare to sneak down some grittier, less well-trodden narrative paths. Within what might have been a basic take on a stock setup, he leaves room for the grotesque, the odd, and the inexplicable.
The essentials: Every facet of Margaret’s (Hall) life revolves around discipline and control. She feeds on the sort of ambiguous matter that can only be identified as “food” by health freaks of the highest ranks, keeps her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) on a tight leash, and delivers the caliber of PowerPoint presentation everyone else does Round of applause instills in her biotech office. When she’s feeling frisky, she summons a grateful married employee for a prompt bang, and it turns up with the same swift efficiency as an Uber Eats order. But it’s no mistake that she runs with a desperate urgency on her daily morning jogs, as if she’s running from something. There’s a constant vacuum of menace at the edge of her vision, until it’s suddenly filled by the very thing that’s haunted her for decades: the scowling, grinning face of Tim Roth.
He plays the ex from hell, an abusive predator who reappears under the guise of mild-mannered innocence. The gaslighting and tampering begins before they even make contact as he levitates, willfully ignoring her, just far enough away for the police to doubt her when she reports him. When he finally makes contact, the film immediately shifts on its own axis, mutating from a villain psych thriller into something more layered and imaginative in its articulation of terror. Realizing that the influence he once had over her has not been fully defeated by her years of mental training, she begins to unravel as she tries to break a cycle of trauma with rapidly growing despair. Hall’s physical transformation over the course of her spiral is notable, evident not in a simple loss of weight but in the darkening of her eyes or strain on her neck.
As she formulates a counterattack plan to ensure the safety of herself and her daughter, her increasingly manic state alarms those close to her, with Abbie’s slow (and then fairly rapid) estrangement serving as a stable structural pillar for the remainder of the film. The final act’s leap into fantasy casts a shadow of doubt on much of what came before, leaving us to sift through Margaret’s subjectivity and find out how much of the danger was created by her own brain – even if it was plentiful based on real threats. The insidious methods malicious humans use to turn their prey against themselves are the film’s secret weapon, transporting us straight into the torture chamber of Margaret’s psyche as she repeatedly acts against her own best interests. It’s harder to watch than all the flesh-torn set pieces waiting for the animosity between the leads to boil over and flare up.
What movies will it remind you of: The last update from The Invisible Man leaps to mind, a close relative in its gruesome merging of well-founded fears rooted in the dynamics of domestic violence with genre metaphors that intertwine with the story, accentuating rather than distracting from it.
Notable performance: It’s the Rebecca Hall Show for much of the film, including a stunning monologue that will be covered in more detail on this site very soon. But it takes two to tango in this dance of death, and Roth holds his own as more than a monster chilling in his composed calm.
Memorable dialogue: Since Hall’s grand monologue is too long to reproduce in full here, let’s instead continue with her snarling mantra: “I would do anything for my children!” I’m a winner!” As her daughter astutely notes later in the film, she says those words to convince herself and not because she believes so, though Hall makes the line with enough conviction to blur those motivations.
gender and skin: Nothing too cheeky. The scenes where Margaret and her non-boyfriend get rid of her skirt were intentionally de-eroticized, in line with the strictly functional parameters she set for their casual relationship. For her, sex is just something to do, and Seman’s camera follows her unsentimental cues. (I was reminded of the part of comedian Kyle Kinane who likened his masturbation habit to grabbing a broom and shooing the raccoons off the porch.)
Our opinion: So technically, this may not be director Andrew Semans’ first feature film – he’s made a little-seen indie title Nancy, please ten years ago – but his confidence is nonetheless remarkable, coming from someone who is relatively inexperienced. Presumably he spent the intervening decade improving through a series of levels RockyMontages in filmmaker training as he and cinematographer Wyatt Garfield exercise a subtle mastery of the intensifying tone of Margaret’s breakdown, using ingenious formal techniques to keep up with her. Her paranoia is evident in tracking shots that peek around corners and through multiple planes of focus, drawing us into her insecurity. A simple tilt of the camera can make it look small and weak or big and strong. The basic building blocks of the medium’s visual vocabulary are exercised well here, without making Semans look like a ostentatious young talent too eager to prove himself.
That’s to say resurrection never goes too far, even as it pushes our suspension of disbelief ever further. Some have objected to the lack of hard logic in the surreal final confrontation between Margaret and her nemesis, which decisively breaks with the atmosphere of realism that dominates the film’s first half. If the screenplay fails to answer all the questions it raises, that’s easily explained by the fact that the film itself joins Margaret in her madness and absorbs her failing ability to distinguish fear from fact. Few films of this newer breed spend as much time concentrating on the processing of anxious panic as on its making; one is that of Alex Garland men this film wants to be so desperate, so direct in its portrayal of misogynist rule and how it distorts reason.
Margaret’s descent into a survival mode that many mistake to be hysteria is by no means easy to watch, especially for those who have a personal connection to the challenges she faces. It’s a far cry from horror’s thrill-and-shock substrate, even if its major set pieces court the same kind of suspense and catharsis, balanced by far more serious and plausible entries. But anyone who appreciates strong foundations – an edit that gives the most pregnant (no pun intended, you’ll get it) moments to breathe, leisurely acting from two actors aiming for maximum agony, a camera that knows how to demonstrate agility and stop short of showing off – can put their trust in Semans to take the reins, even as he drags us over the emotional equivalent of broken glass.
Our appeal: Stream it. It’s a different kind of abusive horror, unusually visceral and precise in its emphasis on the psychological element. The film looks familiar, or at least made from familiar components, but still hides more deadly power than we first realize. Just like a ghoul from the past, back with a vengeance.
Karl Bramesco (@intothecrevassse) is a Brooklyn-based film and television critic. In addition to Decider, his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, Nylon, Vulture, The AV Club, Vox, and many other semi-reputable publications. His favorite movie is Boogie Nights.