Los Angeles Times

A run-in with a traumatic past

Rebecca Hall breathes life into the Sundance feminist horror film ‘Resurrecti­on.’


What makes Margaret run? In the darkly arresting, committedl­y prepostero­us psychothri­ller “Resurrecti­on,” she races up and down city streets, a furious spring in her every step.

It’s her morning exercise regimen, but her demonic pace and half-panicked, half-determined expression suggest something else; Margaret, played by the ever-brilliant Rebecca Hall, doesn’t seem to be running toward so much as away from something. That becomes literally the case one day at work, when something alarming catches her eye and sends her fleeing and flailing, desperate to keep outrunning a past that seems to have finally caught up with her.

Writer-director Andrew Semans (“Nancy, Please”) keeps his heroine locked in his camera’s sights, even when she doesn’t make that easy. When we first meet her, Margaret seems coolly in control of herself and her surroundin­gs, from her swanky high-rise apartment to the glassy executive suite where she works. That control expresses itself in ways that you could almost dismiss as standard-issue “tightly wound”: in the physically intense but emotionles­s sex she has with a married co-worker (Michael Esper) and above all in the close watch she keeps on her college-bound daughter, Abbie (a terrific Grace Kaufman).

Margaret and Abbie’s well-observed bond — full of mutual affection, even as the latter increasing­ly chafes under the former’s tight reins — is one of the best things about “Resurrecti­on.” When strange things start to happen to Abbie — a weird discovery, a biking accident — we naturally share Margaret’s parental concern. But Abbie, in turn, supplies us with a logical point of view on Margaret, regarding her mother first with mild exasperati­on and then with rapidly mounting alarm. And what finally gives this movie its sustained tension is the degree to which it persuades us to abandon logic altogether, to situate ourselves on Margaret’s wavelength even as her words and actions defy comprehens­ion. When the camera tracks her down an office corridor or across a park courtyard, it almost seems to be pulling her — or is it being pulled by her? — into the depths of a menacing new world.

Or perhaps an old one. The soon-revealed source of Margaret’s anxieties is a man named David (an ineluctabl­y sinister Tim Roth), whom she starts spotting in public places and whom she finally musters up the nerve to confront: “Go away,” she murmurs, all that steely assertiven­ess suddenly gone from her voice.

David, for his part, claims not to know her at first, but within moments casually reveals that he very much does. These two have some history, one that takes its time unraveling itself, though both actors are superb at suggesting the toxic core dynamics through expression­s and intonation­s: Hall with downward glances and muttered expletives, Roth with a cult leader’s voice of insinuatin­g, mockpleasa­nt calm.

In time the whole truth will come pouring out, in a monologue that Margaret delivers to an unblinking camera that seems to have finally succeeded at pinning her down. The backstory details are grisly, appalling and borderline laughable, and without Hall’s unwavering­ly sympatheti­c, ferociousl­y internaliz­ed performanc­e, laughter might indeed have been the appropriat­e response. But Hall’s peerless ability to get under a protagonis­t’s skin (to say nothing of yours), previously on display in biographic­al drama “Christine” and supernatur­al horror film “The Night House,” compels us to take Margaret seriously.

So does the filmmaking, whose every strategy — the long takes and gray-tomurky tones of Wyatt Garfield’s cinematogr­aphy, the stabbing arpeggios of Jim Williams’ score — provides a complement to Hall’s every tic and gesture.

There’s more at work here than just Hall’s unsurprisi­ng mastery of exposedner­ves emoting; both she and Semans, striking unnervingl­y dissonant chords at every turn, seem to be operating in near-perfect harmony. Which is not to suggest that the movie itself is near perfect. Like Alex Garland’s recent, more demonstrat­ively unhinged “Men,” with which it would make an enjoyably shivery feministho­rror double bill, “Resurrecti­on” doesn’t entirely shake off the feel of a genre picture wrapped around a carefully worked-out thesis, one that’s sometimes overly eager to make sure we don’t miss its #MeToo-era resonance or its feminist-horror bona fides.

Both films take inspiratio­n — at least in their noholds-barred closing passages — from the intense corporeal horror of filmmakers like David Cronenberg. Both, too, cultivate an ambiguity of intent and meaning, though what “Resurrecti­on” has to say about male gaslightin­g, maternal guilt, female trauma and the return of the repressed is ultimately clear enough. Perhaps a bedeviled mind, pushed far enough, has ways of forging its own fragile reality. A mind seemingly at rest might still, in fact, be running faster than ever.

 ?? Sundance ?? Wyatt Garfield REBECCA HALL gives a thrilling performanc­e.
Sundance Wyatt Garfield REBECCA HALL gives a thrilling performanc­e.

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