Andrew Semans’s Resurrection
A powder-keg of a psychological thriller that plays out with a strangely totemic heft.
Resurrection (2022) is one of those rare films that is more politically salient than it makes itself out to be. A powder-keg of a psychological thriller, staging a practically ancient battle between the sexes, there is nothing self-consciously topical about it. Shot in Albany last summer by director Andrew Semans and starring Rebecca Hall in an unforgettable performance, little else distinguishes it in terms of time or place. It could have been made in any American city, at any point during the past half-century. Perhaps because of this, the narrative unfolds with a strangely totemic heft: a modern myth about gender and motherhood in the same vein as Jordan Peele’s films have laid bare new truths about race. As with Peele’s work, the arc of Semans’s plot bends inexorably towards violence. And inherent in this violence is a kind of catharsis, in which the protagonists shed blood not only to save themselves, but to protect what they signify to the world today.
Arriving on VOD on September 5 and streaming on Shudder starting October 28, Resurrection stars Hall as Margaret, an executive at a pharmaceuticals firm. Living in a high-rise with her teenaged daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), she runs along the Hudson in the morning and has dinner ready by sundown. At work, she projects confidence in the boardroom, while privately acting as a mentor to the office’s summer intern. She has a covert relationship with a junior colleague, though she waits until her daughter is out before inviting him over for the night. In short, her life is meticulously controlled, with the momentum of an effort that long ago became effortless. The film’s opening shots are all corporate interiors and cool-toned athletic-wear, so while one may expect violence, one imagines it will be the cold and calculated kind.
Things change when David (Tim Roth) appears. Margaret first sees him at a biology conference, and his mere silhouette is enough to make her leave the room, run all the way back to her apartment, lock the doors, and start calling for her daughter. Margaret may have been a bit of a helicopter parent before, but after one look at David her attention towards Abbie becomes practically all-consuming. This starts up conflicts of their own, as Abbie, who is about to leave for college, has been trying to exercise her independence as of late. Margaret seems to think that she’s about to be kidnapped.
All the tropes of a classic horror film are here. David seems to show up where he’s least expected and with the kind of omniscient power no locked door can stop. Margaret finds him shopping at her mall or milling about in a public plaza outside her office—though his first few appearances are so far away that it’s hard to be sure they’re all the same man. Maybe she’s simply imagining things? When she confronts him, at the cost of great personal fortitude, he acts as though he doesn’t know her, then flashes a smile with a missing incisor. Abbie recently found a tooth tucked away in her coin purse. Going to the police, Margaret finds, predictably, that there’s nothing they can do unless the ominous man actually makes an attack. But Margaret is anything but a typical horror movie victim, and her anxiety is so acute it seems likely she’ll try and take him out first.
The plot of Resurrection hangs on a seven-minute monologue, delivered by Margaret to her intern in a single, continuous shot. Revealing two decades of backstory seemingly all in one breath, this is the kind of cinematic lynchpin that would make most producers drop an otherwise compelling script, and plenty of actors wary of taking on the role. Semans’s gamble pays off admirably because Hall doesn’t flinch; reportedly, she got the whole thing on her first take. The revelation scene is something that should be watched for oneself, if only because it’s some of the best acting to grace an American movie in years.
Obviously, David is the bad man Margaret believes him to be, and she sketches out a relationship of sadism and abuse that helps explain her unflappable demeanor today. “Anything he asked of me, I could hack it,” she tells us between a few faintly falling tears. It all took place twenty-two years ago, when Margaret was the same age as her daughter is now. In the end, she bore David a child that he didn’t want, and when she was out of the house one day, David ate it. Yep—you read that right. Now he claims the infant is still alive in his belly.
Like the audaciously concentrated backstory itself, this is a shocking scriptural gambit that should not work by conventional standards, yet it does. The bizarre logic that now guides the film forward echoes an origin story of Greek mythology in which Cronus devours his children, who continue to live inside of him until Rhea takes revenge. That kind of thing doesn’t tend to happen to ordinary mortals today, so the fact that David’s claim is taken so seriously by Margaret, even despite her better judgment, feels like another strike against her role as a reliable narrator. It also allows David to exert an enormous amount of control over her, because whenever his traditional tactics of sadism fail, he points to his stomach and assumes the role of the child. Margaret cannot kill him without killing the baby. And she seems to be incapable of displacing herself from his logic.
As violence ensues, the most interesting part of their conflict is the physical disparity between them. As with all good horror, this is a psychological game with bodily stakes. But David’s frail shuffling seems no match for Margaret’s agile athleticism, and this imbalance makes their interactions all the more disturbing. The power he has over her is less about an imminent threat than the history between them—the trauma he once inflicted on her, which was ominously gestured to in her long monologue. This trauma allows David to assert himself ambiently while simultaneously maintaining innocence in the eyes of the law or even to an uninitiated bystander. Because his threat is passive, Margaret is the one who becomes the attacker, and yet twice David manages to easily disarm her when she moves to hurt him, grabbing the weapon and turning it back on her. Given everything we’ve seen of Margaret’s set jaw and her workout routine, he should not be able to do that. The fact that he can touch on the way women have been perceived in political space in recent years, as simultaneously powerful and vulnerable beings, in control of their bodies until a switch is flipped and this control suddenly evaporates. It’s not often that one sees a genre flick grapple with the power of trauma, as a tool of manipulation and a destroyer of credibility, but in Resurrection it helps solidify the rules of the game. This film’s twisted stakes ultimately underscore the extent to which fear is a product of what (and who) we believe.