There are a lot of things about parenthood that are kept from the general public. Most talk about the wonderful things that come from being a parent, like getting to see a first-time reaction to something or sharing an experience, but what rarely gets discussed is the encroaching dread of taking care of a life — the fact that a newborn can just stop breathing, that an infant or toddler’s growing curiosity means interacting with a world not built for them, that nefarious forces lurk around every corner waiting to take advantage of their naiveté. The thing that most don’t discuss are the various ways our own children can trigger us, doing or saying something which leads to parental anxiety built from our own unresolved childhood trauma. In a large way, this is a critical element of writer/director Andrew Semans’s (Nancy, Please) Resurrection, a psychological thriller led by the exquisite Rebecca Hall (The Night House) that explores a depth of loss that is truly every parent’s nightmare and presents a version of what not addressing trauma can birth.
Just about everything in Margaret’s (Hall) life is under control. She’s a successful manager for a bio-research company, she takes care of her health, and she is preparing to say goodbye to her almost-18 year-old college-bound daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman). Like any parent, she’s not looking forward to Abbie being gone, but does her best to make the most of the time that’s left. That is until David (Tim Roth), a man from her past, appears at a bio conference Margaret is attending, splintering the life she’s created for herself, threatening to bring it all crashing down.
**The aim of initial release reviews from Elements of Madness is to provide a spoiler-free article so as to preserve the viewing experience. However, aspects of Resurrection may prove troubling to some viewers, so — as a show of respect — after the following image — there will be a trigger warning to identify elements within the narrative that some viewers may find too difficult or uncomfortable to experience. After, the review will refrain from laying out specific plot points or details so as to maintain the integrity of any narrative surprises.**
**Trigger Warning for severe gaslighting and infanticide.**
Actor Rebecca Hall is one of few performers who can jump genres with incredible ease. She can do actioners like Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), as well as psychological thrillers like The Night House (2020). Her versatility makes her presence in any film immediately something to observe as she so rarely ever gives a false performance, finding the authenticity in the moment, enabling audiences to lean in to whatever she’s doing. This is critical for a character like Margaret in a film like Resurrection, one which never loses its grounding due to Semans’s use of Hall as the anchor for the entire film, providing scant few moments in which the camera isn’t focused on Margaret. Especially as the narrative grows more unhinged, the requirement that Margaret never lose her way among it becomes paramount to the audience understanding what the personal stakes are for the characters as well as the emotional stakes.
So how does Resurrection accomplish this?
Part of this is Hall’s performance of Margaret. Through our introduction to her, we learn that she is adept at keeping secrets, pushes herself physically with daily runs, and keeps a clean, minimalist space for a home. Every aspect of herself is controlled, even to the point of sleeping with a married man. She gives of herself what she wants, no more or less. The film doesn’t explore the ethics of her choice, rather, it makes sure to show us that Margaret is only interested in getting hers, not romance. Control, control, control: that’s her mantra. That she’s also personable, energetic, and otherwise supportive implies that her strict lifestyle doesn’t translate to a cold exterior; instead, as the narrative unravels, we learn that it’s armor she’s built after a horrible trauma. Upon the arrival of David back into her life, that armor becomes a prison, causing her greater pain instead of protection. Roth, a superb actor in his own right who improves just about any project he’s a part of, makes David seem entirely rational, delivering lines as though he’s the true aggrieved. With a simple line delivery, a glance, or gesture, Roth makes David into the cruelest of villains, the version who mask their desire to be the center of someone’s universe by asking for “kindnesses,” positioning demands as favors, so as to manipulate his target slowly, growing the demands one kindness at a time. For anyone who’s ever known someone going through or having survived a violent domestic partner, Margaret’s response (and Hall’s creation of it) is more than reasonable. But this is no straight-forward “parental vigilante” film in the vein of Death Sentence (2007) or Peppermint (2018). Impressively, Resurrection has more in common with Inception (2010), bound to similarly excite or repulse audiences.
To clarify, Resurrection is not as complex as the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream Christopher Nolan-directed action thriller, it’s just that there’s a certain similarity between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb’s loose grip on reality and the film’s ambiguous ending and the approach Semans takes. Throughout the film, there are several moments played straight that end up being misdirects. Thanks to Hall’s performance, Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography, and Ron Dulin’s editing, the audience never really knows when/if a misdirect is coming. That the camerawork is largely tight, only going wide for establishing shots, means that the audience is right on top of Margaret so that they’re able to study and examine her whether she’s running for “leisure,” screwing for pleasure, or, in one of the more unsettling scenes, providing context for her situation with the camera held tightly on Margaret’s face without moving. This last example perfectly encapsulates why Resurrection is so devastating from start to finish: it’s all possible and Semans refuses to allow the audience to look away. As Margaret acknowledges, via sharing her trauma for the first time, what’s happened to her, we are forced to absorb, without cuts or edits, her story. Is this real? Is it a misdirect? My read is that it’s totally real. However, Margaret’s growing anxiety and Hall’s evocative and anchored delivery, creates the sense that we never know when such a moment is coming. But that they happened, when considered along with what these moments of falsehood mean for Margaret, creates a fairly conclusive read of the ending that’s both joyous and devastating, especially for any parent in the audience.
Resurrection is a powerhouse of a film that, understandably, won’t connect with all audiences. It’s not just because the ending allows for interpretation where audiences seem to be leaning more toward concrete stories versus ones that require a little more intellectual investment, but because it puts forth a very unconventional concept: the courage to heal yourself. So much of this film could’ve been handled differently if only Margaret hadn’t saddled herself with armor as a trauma response. If she hadn’t blamed herself for the actions of her abuser. If she had only opened herself to Abbie, rather than close herself off thereby creating an environment of fear instead of safety. Except this happens all the time, often to those closest to us, making the whole of Resurrection devastating in its truth, even when it appears to have lost its way. Just because you survive doesn’t mean you’ve been made whole. That comes with time and a willingness to do the work. That provides greater hope than any kind of pursuit for control.
In theaters July 29th, 2022.
Available on VOD August 5th, 2022.
Available to stream on Shudder November 2022.
For more information, head to the official IFC Films Resurrection webpage.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.