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Resurrection Review: Death And Rebirth

  • Rebecca Hall is fantastic in the lead role
  • The supporting performances are great
  • The film builds and sustains tension wonderfully
  • Some story points are a little too murky
  • The ambiguity is pushed a bit too far in some sequences

If you cast Rebecca Hall to star in your movie, you're usually already at least halfway to where you want to be even before rolling a single foot of film. Consistently one of the most compelling and versatile actors of her era, Hall is capable of truly powerhouse work, as evidenced by everything from "Christine" to "The Night House." With "Resurrection," writer-director Andrew Semans has wisely called upon Hall to carry his film about a mother struggling with a resurgence of darkness from her own past, and Hall once again delivers what we've come to expect from her, and then some.

But of course, one actor doesn't make a film alone, and "Resurrection" is thankfully not just an attempt to lean on Hall throughout. Over the course of a tense, sometimes brutal film, Semans and a supporting cast that includes a wonderfully utilized Tim Roth and a compellingly vulnerable Grace Kaufman weave a suspense story that keeps you hooked even if you're not quite sure if the execution will pay off. Patient, often elegant, and full of nerve-gnashing sequences, it's a film that serves as both a great showcase of its cast and a fascinating exercise in emotional terror.

Back from the dead

Hall is Margaret, a single mother and executive at a BioTech who fills her days caring perhaps a little too much for her teenage daughter Abbie (Kaufman), impressing her coworkers with her sensitivity and poise, and having an affair with a married co-worker (Michael Esper) who seems to want more from her than she's willing to give. For all her openness to the people she cares about, Margaret is sometimes deeply cold and closed off to the world around her, and when a face from her past resurfaces, we start to understand why. When she spots David (Roth) in the crowd at a work event, Margaret finds old memories and long-buried traumas starting to resurface.

The past doesn't just bring pain; the more she feels David's presence nearby, the more Margaret starts to descend into what might be madness, or might be a supernatural calling from her past — something summoning her to finish something that began years ago, something that threatens everything about the life she's built now. But is that calling real, or is Margaret really just losing her grip on reality while her daughter and her lover helplessly watch?

There is, as you might have guessed, a deliberate level of ambiguity running through these questions, designed to both create tension and provoke emotional resonances in each performance. In that respect, Semans' script is both clever and canny, despite a few gaps in the story that might have made it all feel a bit tighter if they'd been addressed. Even without certain information, though, you can't help but feel a certain deliberate looseness in the narrative, which makes us focus more on Margaret and the choices she's making throughout the film. 

There's a sense that either something very awful is happening to her, or she's purposefully propelling herself through an increasingly strange waking nightmare of uncertainty and panic. It's a film that invites you into those wrinkles within Margaret's mind, constantly asking if what you're seeing is the truth or some imagined reality Margaret herself has conjured. Semans reinforces that in the way he shoots the film, often framing Margaret at a slight distance early in the film, until the tension ratchets up and he pushes in closer and closer on her experience, making us wonder if our observations are true or simply warped by the emotional intensity of the character we're walking with. That makes for a smart, tightly wound platform on which the cast can excel.

A powerhouse performance

Hall, coming off the triumph of last year's "The Night House," truly does stun in her performance as Margaret, building on the character's paranoia and uncertainty to craft a deeply emotional, often disturbing performance that never loses its grounding in certain universal fears. Margaret is someone who built a carefully structured life around a certain kind of gap she needed to fill within herself, and when the balance of that structure is suddenly shifted, she doesn't handle it well. As an audience, we need to understand this about her, and also understand the slow escalation from reasonable concern to outright near-madness along the way. Hall carries that weight of narrative expectation like a master, deftly executing scenes that other actors might turn hokey or melodramatic, through everything from marvelous voice control to the command of her face that's so fine-tuned she can completely change her appearance in a matter of seconds. There are things about "Resurrection" that might not quite work, but you barely notice them because the spell Hall casts is so absolute and carefully controlled.

It takes a lot to distinguish yourself alongside a performance as great as Hall's, but both Roth and Kaufman match her moment for moment — Roth through eerie emotional reflection and Kaufman through powerful mother-daughter clashes that help illustrate the gravity of the problem. Together they both amplify and complement Hall's excellence, becoming terrific themselves along the way.

In the end, you might be hoping "Resurrection" is something it's not, whether you want a film that is more supernatural or more cerebral in its representation of a woman slowly crawling toward truth in a world that seems to have left her hanging by a thread. It's a delicate balance between those elements that sometimes teeters perilously too much to one side or another, but the performances at the core of the story make it work.

"Resurrection" hits theaters on Friday, July 29.