Resurrection, a slick new thriller from second-time writer-director Andrew Semans, wastes no time in establishing its protagonist and its stakes.
Rebecca Hall plays Margaret, a businesswoman at a biotech company. She lives in a fancy apartment, listens to classical music, goes for intense runs after work and invites a married colleague over for sex when her daughter has gone out. She is a somewhat emotionless, high-strung woman who does not like deviation from her carefully maintained existence. The pulsating strings of Jim Williams’s score make it clear that this is not going to last, and indeed it is not long before her daughter, Abbie, has found a tooth in her wallet and sustained a serious leg injury.
Shortly thereafter, a figure from Margaret’s past appears – a man named David Moore played calmly by Tim Roth. Her reactions suggest that their shared history gives her reason to fear him, and crucially to fear for the safety of her daughter. There is the implication that her fears about Abbie’s burgeoning adulthood and imminent moving to college are tied up in her guilt about a perceived failure of motherhood which David exacerbates. Although thankfully the film never presses the point.
David’s quasi-stalking and its drawing out of Margaret bring to mind Max Cady in Scorsese’s Cape Fear, though Roth’s performance could hardly be a more different approach to De Niro’s. Roth is not an actor I would naturally associate with villainy, and there are occasional line readings that almost become comical in their calmness. But there are just as many where he comes across as genuinely quite creepy, especially when he utilises what at first appears to be a beer belly but the true nature of which is far more lurid.
The other film brought to mind was Christian Petzold’s cold corporate thriller Yella. unlike Petzold, Semans does not seem particularly interested in exploring the implications of Margaret’s work – if there’s a connection between the business of Margaret’s biotech company and the threat posed by David, it’s not an obvious one.
What the film is interested in, however, is Margaret’s trauma. There was a niggling worry in my mind throughout a large section of the film that there might be something ever so slightly insensitive in the portrayal of this experience. In particular, how much Semans mines the possibility that Margaret might be imagining some of what we see. Indeed, recent films like Last Night in Soho and Men, both sought to explore women’s trauma in a patriarchal world and inadvertently insulted abuse and sexual assault victims. In the end, I’m not entirely sure it completely dispels those doubts, but unlike the aforementioned films, Resurrection does take her trauma seriously and does not reduce her character to it. Eventually, when the catharsis arrives (in an ending that will surely prompt much post-film discussion) it feels earned rather than exploited. The standout scene is one in which Margaret calmly explains the abuse she suffered when she was younger. Although what she is describing is lurid, it works because of Hall’s delivery and the way Semans shoots her face – in close-up, with the left side obscured by shadow and a completely dark background.
Hall has mostly been known thus far as a character actor; she has been in some notable films (The Prestige for example) but probably won’t be a recognisable face to casual audiences. Here she is also credited as executive producer and if the film is intended as a demonstration of her skills as a leading lady then it is a success. I’m not sure it has anything much to say beyond that, but that doesn’t matter when it delivers on genre thrills as effectively as it does, elevating pulpy and fundamentally middlebrow material into something worth seeking out.
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