Review: Reality and Delusion Are Nearly Indistinguishable in Moody, Angsty Resurrection

After hoisting herself up as the new queen of angsty acting (with such films as Christine and The Night House) and equally impressive writing/directing (last year’s Sundance offering Passing) Rebecca Hall returns to hold onto the title another year with Resurrection, writer/director Andrew Semans’ second feature (after Nancy, Please), about a British woman living in the states, leading a successful and orderly life that is in danger of coming apart when she spots a familiar face from her past.

Hall’s Margaret is the portrait of stability in her career, with her teen daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), who is just months away from heading off to college, something Margaret is already distressed about. She even carefully controls her love life by having an affair with a married man (Michael Esper) whom she knows isn’t entirely available to her. What better way to keep a distance from real emotions? But when she glimpses David (Tim Roth) at a conference, it sets off a series of terrible, almost unspeakable memories that knock her completely off her axis and send her spiraling into paranoia and psychological unraveling.

The more Margaret attempts to avoid seeing him, the more he seems to pop up in the unlikeliest of places. Is it coincidence? Is he stalking her? Or is he even real, perhaps the product of Margaret’s fractured mind (which is likely the result of something in her past)? When she and David finally speak, he falls right back into patterns and catchphrases that he used to control her when they were together, back when Margaret was barely able to consent to their rocky relationship. There’s even an indication that their bond went deeper than just psychological abuse when he reminds her that something lives inside his belly, something that was very upset when Margaret left David all those years ago and now it wants to talk to her again. 

There’s no getting around the fact that Resurrection is highly disturbing, and Hall’s performance makes it all the more unsettling because however things play out, we know we’re watching a woman’s mind crumble because of a man’s control (or attempted control). There’s a sequence when Hall delivers a monologue to an intern that she’s been mentoring where the camera barely leaves her face, and her delivery is terrifying in the way she says words she’s clearly never spoken to another human being. It’s part confession, part unlocking the deepest, most private thoughts she possesses. This is clearly something she’s avoided talking about because to do so would unleash hell on her mental state.

There comes a point in Resurrection (a film whose screenplay made the 2020 Black List) when reality and delusion are indistinguishable, so we’re left with no choice but to ride this terror wave to its conclusion. Even then we aren’t sure if what we’re experiencing is meant to be real. What I do know is that Roth’s brand of sinister charm is played exactly right. We understand why, even now, she might find some comfort in simply slipping back into old habits. But then he shows his true self again, and Margaret must contend with both the past and present-day version of David. Just when we think we know how good Hall can get as an actor, she pulls out something like Margaret, and our minds are expanded. Sometimes the film’s blurring of fact and fiction can be distracting, and there were certainly times when I wished we had a few things to hold onto that we knew were genuine. But this is a small quibble when we get a film like Resurrection as a result.

Resurrection is now in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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