Margaret (Sundance stalwart Rebecca Hall) has her life in careful order. Her sleek apartment, high-powered job, chic power suits, reliable fuck buddy – it’s all precisely crafted and, most importantly, controlled.
In the opening scene, she’s doling out advice on how to deal with a toxic boyfriend to an intern impressed by her wisdom and composure. She heads home to take care of her teenage daughter. But there are slight cracks. Her married paramour is a little too interested, her daughter a little too smothered. So when a sinister figure from her past crash-lands into her life, those cracks start to deepen and Margaret starts to unravel.
The figure is David (a menacing Tim Roth), the very sight of whom makes Margaret panic. He is someone to be feared, although in writer-director Andrew Semans’ bumpy thriller, the hows and whys are initially kept in the shadows. We know she wants him gone and we know she wants her daughter to stay well away but it takes until around 35 minutes in for us to know why.
Why is there a tooth in her daughter’s purse? Why is she dreaming of a charred baby? The grimy details are best left secret for maximum enjoyment of the film, but David was a lover, 22 years prior, when Margaret was still a teenager. He wielded an unusual, chilling power over her and now he’s back to see if she can still be kept under his spell.
When it’s working, there’s something horribly effective about Resurrection, a horror-tinged thriller that tries doubling as a drama about the long-term effects of abuse. David was able to trap an 18-year-old Margaret in a sadistic relationship, making her do things she would have otherwise balked at, creating a fragile yet intoxicating delusion where real world rules had no place.
Years later, having distanced herself from that trauma, Margaret is sucked back into that headspace, a horrifying return to a dangerous place, a nightmare she woke from now seeping into her adult life. Margaret hasn’t been able to fully process what really happened (she hasn’t told a single person about it) and with David trying to control her once again she’s a maelstrom of anger and untapped violence while, chillingly, still vulnerable to David’s unhinged charm. There’s something Haneke-like about the first half, far less opaque for sure but similarly chilly. There are also echoes of Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Hall, as one would expect, sells the hell out of this, bristling with fury and gripped by a fear not just aimed at David but at herself and what she might be capable of doing. It’s yet another top-of-her-game turn (a scene of her uncontrollably crying alone is truly shattering) but like her last Sundance thriller, the supernatural mystery The Night House, Hall gives more then she gets in return, a performance in a league far too high for Semans’ jumbled script to reach.
The plot falls apart faster than Hall’s character and post-reveal we’re lost in a repetitive spiral, Semans unable to build on a grim foundation. The intriguingly unpacked psychology of the first half unravels in overly simplistic terms, a character study falling apart as it transforms into a midnight movie. It has the feeling of a short film stretched beyond its limit, with all that early tension dissipating, and while there’s certainly something jolting about the gonzo violence in the finale, it’s otherwise ineffectual. Semans chooses to end on a surreal, ambiguous note, but it’s one that feels less daring and more down to a lack of better ideas.
Hall yet again is supreme, the film, yet again, less so.