Synopsis: Margaret’s life is in order. She is capable, disciplined, and successful. Soon, her teenage daughter, whom Margaret raised by herself, will go to a fine university, just as Margaret had hoped. Everything is under control. That is, until David returns, carrying the horrors of Margaret’s past with him.
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone
Director: Andrew Semans
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: At the Academy Awards this year, Jessica Chastain may have won the official Oscar for her brilliant performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, but for my money, the best performance by an actress in 2021 was Rebecca Hall’s in The Night House. The well-reviewed and downright spooky thriller was about much more than you think at the outset. Hall was operating in her typically high-caliber form as a widow searching for answers and finding them in increasingly terrifying ways. Following that up with a much-lauded directing debut for Netflix, Passing, that signaled she harbored a multitude of talents in the industry, and the veteran actress suddenly was getting noticed. Finally.
I’m not sure why many, including me, failed to take note of how significant a force Hall is on screen for so long. A glance over her career has shown all the top-tier filmmakers she’s worked with, so it should come as little surprise. In that work, she’s demonstrated a knack for welcoming in challenging women with prickly surfaces. Unlike men, alienating women can be a complicated role to be pigeonholed into playing, but Hall has nimbly avoided that, and it’s by shepherding much of the works she takes on. The Night House and Passing were huge leaps forward from a critical standpoint, and now with Resurrection, she goes a step further.
Let’s start with what you’ll hear most about Resurrection and what I’ll have to tell you the least about, and that’s the ending. Writer/director Andrew Semans leaves his audience with one of those finales where you’ll be tempted to throw up your hands in frustration…or maybe not. Ambiguity doesn’t have to be bad, though we’ve been trained over time to expect certainty in movies, and that means a definitive end. In fact, unspooling Resurrection means you may have to go back further than those final few minutes and double-check you’ve been following along from the start.
A high-powered executive working for a nameless biotech company, Margaret (Hall, Closed Circuit) is good at problem-solving. We can tell because she’s got an open-door policy that extends to a young intern (Angela Wong Carbone) speaking freely about her troublesome personal relationship at the film’s start. Maybe Margaret sees a little of her teenage daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman, The Sky is Everywhere), about to head off to college, or she could be helping another female see a different path to success that doesn’t involve a man. A single mom, she’s engaged in a hush-hush office romance with Peter (Michael Esper, Ben is Back) but keeps him at arm’s length, not just because she’s the boss. On the surface, Margaret wears a shield, but underneath, a disturbance roils.
That protection she has kept close gets a small fissure when attending a local conference where she sees a man from her past, David (Tim Roth, Sundown), and she suffers an anxiety attack. This isn’t your garden variety panic attack, either. Margaret bolts out of the room and runs throughout the city (Albany, NY, looking mighty ominous) directly back to her daughter to check on her safety. Why the alarm bells? Days later, while shopping with Abbie, Margaret spots David in a shopping center and then across a park. This can’t be a coincidence or a dream. Could it? It’s not. Or is it?
Part of the twisty nature of Resurrection is determining where Margaret’s anxiety and paranoia can take her and how much of what she’s seeing we can believe. All of it? Some of it? Semans includes dream sequences and reality, so we can never be too comfortable with what world we’re in at any time. So, it’s up to the viewer to determine how much is in Margaret’s increasingly skewed imagination as she unravels in her personal and professional life. The more we learn about her history with David, the further we see the length to which she’ll go to protect herself and her daughter from memories that gnash at her heels.
Hall’s incredible eight-minute monologue, shot in one interrupted take, is unquestionably the film’s trump card. If you’d been wavering on the picture until that time, it’s motivation to continue to see how things develop. It’s where Hall reveals the kind of information a film would ordinarily save for the final salvo, but instead, Semans unveils at the midpoint because there is so much more to come. Hall moves through the shadows of this speech with such adroit matter-of-factness that the shocking truths land even harder; you come out the other end wondering if Margaret is who you thought she was at the beginning. It’s to Hall’s credit that she can keep the viewer engaged through some bizarre behavior as the film progresses, always being mindful of responding as a human would, not an actor with scripted lines.
While Hall is captivating most every frame of the film, the supporting characters aren’t too shabby either. Roth is undeniably creepy as the mysterious David and while I can’t reveal much about his true nature, what he can do with an overemphasized smile is enough to chill the bones. I liked the sweet, understated sincerity in Esper’s performance as a man interested not just in Margaret’s as a partner but in her well-being as she stumbles. The relationship between Kaufman’s Abbie and Margaret is believably intense. While I’d have liked a few more scenes to establish her character as an individual further, I understand why the movie needed to keep her tethered to Margaret as it does.
Bound to be a dividing experience because of that ending but a slick, slithery mystery up until that point, Resurrection is recommended for Hall’s performance first and foremost. It’s another example of an actress rising to a challenge in a complex role and the filmmakers letting the audience feel their way through a thorny narrative thesis with no easy answers. I doubt two people will have the same interpretation of the end, and you’ll need to discuss it with someone. Make sure to watch it with someone you won’t mind arguing with after.