Resurrection, with Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth

Rebecca Hall in Resurrection.

Rebecca Hall in Resurrection.
Photo: IFC Films

Mid Road Resurrection, Rebecca Hall delivers a nearly eight-minute monologue about her character’s past that is so captivating, so mystifying and terrifying that you shouldn’t be surprised if it appears in every acting class in the near future. What makes the scene powerful, however, are not so much the words as Hall herself, whose face and voice have always suggested a land of uncommon and uncomfortable wonder. She can exude resilience and fragility in the same breath – as if, somehow, the stronger she is, the more vulnerable she becomes. It turns out to be the perfect register for this unusually tense psychological thriller.

Hall plays Margaret, a demanding single mother and biotech executive living in Albany with her increasingly independent teenage daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman). Margaret is a control freak who likes everything simple and orderly, and dislikes attachments. The closest thing she has to a romantic relationship is an emotionless, no-questions-asked affair with a married colleague (Michael Esper). Then one day, she glimpses a face from her past that tears her world apart: David (Tim Roth), a man with whom she had a demented and abusive relationship 22 years ago. Almost immediately, this woman who seemed so confident turns into a bare nerve. And as soon as she reveals herself, we understand why she has been so cautious, so withdrawn until now.

To say more would probably say too much about the precise nature of David and Margaret’s relationship, and some surreal claims this figure from his past makes that may or may not be true. As David, Roth is a slippery vision of indescribable smugness. His character is a master of suggestion, whose offhand hints slowly turn into sly insistence. He may not be physically imposing – frankly, he looks downright nebbishy – but the man exudes pure menace. And yet, you can also see how someone could fall under his spell.

The charm of Resurrection (which is being released by IFC Films in theaters and on demand, and will later be released via Shudder) is that after a while you have no idea where the movie is going or how it’s going will solve. Much of the credit goes to the performers, but writer-director Andrew Semans also creates a mood of cosmic suspense, where we not only guess what’s to come next, but what kind of movie we’re even watching. Is it a pure and simple psychological thriller, grounded in the real world, or something more demonic and supernatural?

Even the ultimate answer to this question doesn’t actually answer the question. For all its scandalous twists, Resurrection maintains its existential ambiguity all the way, and you never really know if what you see is on the level. Semans consistently distinguishes Margaret from the other characters, which expresses her closed nature, but also suggests a kind of dreamlike cocoon – which might make us wonder how real the world beyond the frame is. Early on, Margaret tells her daughter that she has started drawing again, after a 22-year hiatus – the exact time she was away from David. Did opening up her imagination conjure up monsters from her past? He’s a character that lives in his head, but at some point you can start to wonder if we, the audience, live there too. By asking such questions, Resurrection manages to be gripping. And by refusing to answer such questions, he manages to be unwavering.

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