We all remember that one toxic relationship right? The one that had us falling madly in love only to turn sour, poisonous, and debilitating in the long-term. Sometimes those relationships are just bad news, other times they’re controlling, abusive, and seem completely inescapable.
When we meet Margaret (Rebecca Hall) at the beginning of Resurrection, she is powerful, successful, and precise. With not a hair out of place, she raises her daughter on her own, dominates her office commanding boss, and carries on a casual dalliance with a co-worker that fulfills her physically. Her world, in many ways, is pristine and she exudes admirable flawless energy.
This perfect veneer softens for her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) but it doesn’t crack until, by chance (or not), she sees a familiar face: David (Tim Roth). The effect is immediate. The perfect Margaret stumbles and runs away, and in following coincidental run-ins, she bursts into flight mode, suffering from severe panic attacks.
Hall is superb as Margaret, who exudes confidence and style on-screen until her reunion with a former ghost. After seeing David again, Margaret’s slow descent into madness and paranoia could not be portrayed better by anyone other than Hall. Even before we learn her history with David – in a stunning uninterrupted 8-minute monologue – we know she is completely shaken and for good reason. David, who initially appears aloof and clueless, soon bares his teeth and Roth’s face turns from docile to snarling in a split second.
Margaret’s story, without going into details, is a painfully believable one. A story about coercive control and grooming, David is eager to slip into their roles after their reunion, ready to trade “kindnesses” from Margaret in exchange for his brand of mercy. Walk to work barefoot for a week, and I’ll leave you alone, David promises. Seemingly harmless, but, as we know from Margaret’s story, that’s how it starts not how it ends.
Willing to do anything to protect her daughter from his psychopath, she inadvertently sours her relationship with Abbie in her pursuit of protection. Unwilling to tell her daughter what is going on (at times to an infuriating degree), her goal of keeping Abbie safe predictably only pushes her away. In Abbie’s eyes, she is on the edge of 18 and almost an adult. In Margaret’s eyes, her daughter is on the edge of 18, nearing the age of when she first met David.
As the tension builds and Margaret and David’s conflict escalates, she deteriorates physically. The once sharp and pristine boss gives way to a haunted woman, and Hall keeps a tight grip on Margaret’s unraveling, never letting it push into the land of unbelievable. There are a few moments of truly hair-raising shock (a certain dilapidated hotel owner comes to mind), but for the most part, Resurrection is always just at the edge of a rolling boil which is just where it succeeds.
The third act is where Director Andrew Semans pushes himself and takes a bold step away from what we might expect and perhaps what we want – giving us a conclusion that is full of gore, completely bizarre, and absolutely fitting for the story he is trying to tell. Coming in at an economical 103 minutes, Resurrection might be the first film of Sundance this year that I wish was just a little longer. Fleshing out some more of Abbie or Angela Wong Carbone‘s Gwyn, Margaret’s doe-eyed and soft-spoken underling, might have added heft, especially since both Gwyn and Abbie serve as foils to Margaret, while also being nurtured by her.
But Resurrection is still a gem. Semans tells a story that sprinkles in enough daring and experimentation to keep us on our toes, while Hall and Roth swing for the fences with their antagonistic roles. While Margaret is, without a question, a victim of David’s abuse, she is also determined to make David suffer for the horrors he’s inflicted on her. As the two clash, neither willing to back down, all we can do is stand back and hope that Margaret makes it out alive. The conclusion might leave some throwing their hands up in frustration and others applauding its audacity, but it’s an ending that will definitely leave you with something to talk about and ponder long after the credits finish rolling.
Resurrection premiered at Sundance this week and is seeking distribution.