RESURRECTION is an interesting 2022 horror-thriller you can find on disc, VOD or Shudder. I saw the trailer play before movies many times and found it kind of intriguing, but I could never remember the name. I must’ve confused it with the 1909 D.W. Griffith short, or the silent films from 1910, 1912, 1917, 1918, 1923 and 1927, or the pre-code Tolstoy adaptation from 1931, or the Italian one from the same year, or the 1943 Mexican film, or the 1944 Italian one, or the 1958 German/Italian/French one, or the 1960 Russian one, or the 1968 British one, or the 1980 one starring Ellen Burstyn, or the 1999 Russell Mulcahy one I still haven’t seen although you guys really convinced me I have to and then Vinegar Syndrome even put it out on blu-ray, or the one from 2001 or 2010 or the three from 2016. But this is a different RESURRECTION, the one starring Rebecca Hall (THE B.F.G.) and Tim Roth (THE MUSKETEER).
Hall plays Margaret, a successful, seemingly well-liked single mother living in Albany. Her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman, BAD TEACHER) is about to leave for college, and she’s protective of her to an annoying level, but they seem to be on pretty good terms. At first it’s funny how often Margaret will tell her daughter things like “you’re safe” and “it’s going to be okay” when she clearly has no use for such affirmations. At one point when Margaret says something particularly ridiculous, Abbie very astutely points out, “Mom, when you say things like that, I mean… that’s for you, not me.”
Margaret also has a boyfriend, or at least a guy she’s calls over for sex, a married guy from work named Peter (Michael Esper, THE DROP). They have nice conversations and he seems to genuinely care about her but I think she likes that he’s married because she doesn’t have to be committed or be with him in public. She’s proudly self-reliant.
One day during a conference for work Margaret’s eyes wander and she sees someone who terrifies her. It’s Roth, playing David, a man she hasn’t seen in 22 years. She nearly has a panic attack, runs out of the convention center, and then all the way home to make sure Abbie is safe. Abbie turns from her video game to see her mom covered in sweat pretending it’s nothing, she’s fine, and doesn’t know what the fuck is going on.
When Margaret starts to see David in public places like a mall and a park, the movie makes it real scary just to see the back or side of Tim Roth’s head, from a distance, acting normal. We don’t even know yet who this guy is or why she fears him, we just know her physical response of terror. The sound design, with Margaret’s labored breathing up front, made my heart speed up.
After humiliating herself by losing her shit in a meeting at work she goes out for air and sees David sitting across from her on a bench. So she swallows her fear, walks up to him, and just barely musters enough of a voice to tell him to leave her alone.
He doesn’t know who she is, or why she’s talking to him like this. Then he does. He uses her name. Uses her daughter’s name. Make threats in the guise of non-threats. Goes immediately to gaslighting, claiming she introduced herself to him. Soon she’ll be repeatedly muttering his words to herself, going over them again and again, as if trying to determine their veracity. David is a truly scary character without ever having to chase or yell at anybody. A sociopath who lives to torment and manipulate for his own amusement, while feigning innocence, pretending to believe it’s all a misunderstanding.
She does go to the police, but of course they can’t do anything, not only because they’re the police but also because there really is no crime here so far. I actually think this is a case where the officer should’ve been depicted as more empathetic and wanting to help, because it would make his uselessness in the situation all the more frustrating.
One thing that make it a novel spin on a stalker thriller is that David at least seems to be going about his business and it’s Margaret who starts following and spying on him. She figures out where he’s staying, waits outside in her car, or in an alley. Follows him around town. Confronts him at a diner. Breaks into his hotel room, starts going through his stuff. There’s a pretty long list of ways this movie very effectively makes me uncomfortable. It’s grueling.
For sure the best thing about it is the knockout performance by Hall, first establishing a likable, troubled personality, then struggling to keep it together as she psychologically shatters and falls to pieces. She’s an absolute mess through much of the running time, while still feeling naturalistic. She doesn’t really get mega, except maybe in the scene where she punches Peter for checking on her and says, “Impede my mission once more and I’ll beat you till you’re dead.” Imagine somebody saying that to you in all seriousness.
It’s sad seeing her repeatedly make crazy scenes in front of her co-workers and reject concerns from her loved ones. We understand why they assume she lost her mind, and actually it seems very possible that they’re right. Kaufman as Abbie is also crucial to how well the movie works because she responds so believably as a teenager worried for her mom and also frustrated to have this to deal with right when (possibly because) she’s beginning life as an adult.
Is David real? At some point I really started wishing there was an IsItFake.com sister site to DoesTheDogDie.com. There have certainly been good movies where it all turns out to be a dream or a character was a split personality or a figment of someone’s imagination, but here I was thinking please don’t do that to me. Both because it seems too obvious and because “the thing that the person said that seemed so crazy turned out to yes, just be a crazy person saying a crazy thing” doesn’t seem that cinematic. But admittedly my fear that a plot twist would kill this thing was one of the layers of uncertainty making the whole thing so stomach churningly tense.
RESURRECTION is much less abstract than that movie MEN, but made me think of it occasionally, with its woman haunted by a manipulative man from her past, and lack of explanation for weird shit. And one of its best scenes is weirdly similar to one of my other favorite scenes of 2022, from PEARL. Both have a well-meaning supporting character prompting the lead to open up, and then they unleash a long crazy monologue that the listener is absolutely unqualified to deal with, and the camera stays mostly on the speaker so that we’re left in darkly comical suspense about how the listener is reacting.
In this case it’s Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone), Margaret’s naive young intern, stopping at the office to say goodbye before leaving for the night, and accidentally stumbling into the heaviest conversation of her life while standing there with her coat already on. Margaret has listened to Gwyn’s relationship problems and given her advice, so the young woman assumes she can return the favor, saying “I’m actually a good listener.” But what she has to listen to is the information we’ve been waiting to hear: the whole story of who David is, how Margaret met him and what he did to her. To me the creepiest part is the way he made her do things like walk on the street barefoot or stand in stress positions for hours and called it “kindnesses” to inspire him in his biology work. Sounds more like a genuinely sick abuser than a horror movie villain. But Margaret’s story ends with (SPOILER) David “eating up” her newborn baby and claiming he’s still alive inside his belly, crying for her.
Gwyn is left in tears wondering if Margaret is trying to test her or something. After Margaret mercifully lets the poor intern go, Gwyn blurts out “Feel better!” before running away. Such a perfectly hilarious illustration of a young person out of their depth, and also very relatable for this old person who tries to be emotionally supportive but often has no idea what to say. I mean, who would know what to say to that story?
(note: When I was talking about PEARL way back I think someone brought up RESURRECTION to me because of this comparison. If so, shout out to whoever that was. I see what you were saying!)
I recommend RESURRECTION for the ride it takes you on. I’m still processing what I think or understand about its ultimate destination. I will discuss that in detail in the ending-spoiler section below. RESURRECTION is from writer/director Andrew Semans, who did one other movie called NANCY, PLEASE ten years earlier. From the trailer it seems to have some similarities, but with a male protagonist obsessed with a woman from his past. I guess this director has a mission.
END OF REVIEW except for…
MAJOR SPOILER ZONE – VERY SPECIFIC ENDING DISCUSSION – TURN BACK WHILE YOU STILL HAVE TIME
At the end of the movie at first I felt a little disappointed. I can’t say there wasn’t enough of a payoff, because cutting open a guy’s stomach and pulling out a live baby is a pretty big payoff. Whatever you think of it, the size of the payoff is not the issue. But I started thinking that in this type of story, where the tension keeps getting tighter and tighter on you like a vise, you want it to be building to one of those elusive endings where it’s not quite what you expected but then when you think about it you can’t imagine it any other way. Ah ha, of course that was where this was all leading. I guess you could argue that “What if we show the crazy thing he said being true?” fulfills that unexpected inevitability requirement, but to me it seemed more like, “eh, I don’t know, do something weird at the end.”
Really that’s overthinking it because that wasn’t my problem with it, my problem was just that I didn’t know what to make of it. And I wanted to know what to make of it. For a movie that’s all about leaving you unmoored, to not do a little bit of mooring at the end felt unsatisfying, like we had been doing Margaret’s Tom Cruise/T-1000 run all night and the sun came up and it turned out we’d been running in place the whole time.
But I sat with it for a bit, wondered how the end was supposed to be interpreted, tried to figure out how I interpreted it exactly, and started to feel a little better about it. Either we’re to take this story literally, or we’re to assume there’s some level of delusion on Margaret’s part. For me the final scene, with its too-good-to-be-true dreaminess and the change of Margaret’s expression from happiness to fear right before the fade to black, rules out taking it literally.
So what are the different levels of delusion that could be at work here? Let’s do a list of possibilities.
1. David never existed, Margaret imagined the whole thing. (He’s a metaphor or some shit.)
2. David did exist, but he’s not here now, she’s imagining him. Supporting this idea is the fact that the movie never really confirms if anyone else sees him – the only time I can think of is when when he shows up at her work and talks to her in her office and Peter and Gwyn are watching through the window. But for all we know they just see Margaret talking to herself. (I guess she would’ve had to imagine the secretary telling her “there’s a man here to see you,” and the waitress bringing David coffee at the diner.)
3. Whether or not David ever existed, there’s a possibility that Tim Roth in this movie represents some innocent dude who Margaret thinks is David, and is stalking and harassing, and the horrible and weird things he says after the initial few exchanges are just her delusions about what he’s saying. So this would be the story of this poor unlucky guy’s seemingly random murder.
I suspect there’s not an official correct answer to this, that it’s designed to allow different interpretations. But I decided the one I like best, and will stick with, is #4.
4. David was and is real and the only part that’s imaginary is the end, when Margaret pulls the baby out of him. His manipulations have been too successful, he’s pushed her buttons too hard, and she wants so badly to have her dead baby back that she disembowels the motherfucker thinking that will do the trick. Whoops.