Sundance London 2022 review: Resurrection

Resurrection starring Rebecca Hall
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Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth are incredible in Resurrection – a thriller that’s incessantly brutal, for better or worse. 

Margaret (Rebecca Hall) is a woman haunted by her past in Resurrection. Introduced as a stoic figure with impenetrable emotional walls, these are pulled apart piece by piece when David (Tim Roth) comes back into her life. This thriller knows the trademarks of abuse – emotional and physical – and doesn’t shy away from showing the way it can affect victims in the most brutal way possible.

Our protagonist has a meticulously curated life comprised of a career, a secret lover, and teenage daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) who is blissfully unaware of her mother’s past and resents her stifling parenting style. Then David reappears. Roth’s character, from the outside, appears to be a normal guy, but Margaret’s reaction says otherwise. Hall carries the first act on her shoulders, perfectly portraying a woman in sheer panic, coming apart at the seams just at the sight of a man she’s evaded for 22 years. The hard exterior melts away instantly, and she is caught up in a whirlwind of events where she’s forced into ‘fight or flight’ mode to protect herself and her daughter as her actions become increasingly erratic.

Roth’s David is kept at arms length for a considerable amount of time, creating an aura of dread that builds until he finally does appear up close. His performance is unsettling in an understated way. He doesn’t raise his voice; he pretends all of his and Margaret’s interactions are polite conversation, and twists everything. He’s a monster, but one that exerts coercive control rather than brute force. From the outside Roth may appear to be quite normal, but this in itself becomes rather terrifying.

Writer/director Andrew Semans keeps us in suspense for pretty much the entire runtime. We’ve seen plenty of psychological thrillers about victims of abuse before, but few are as raw, unpredictable, and absorbing as this. Margaret’s visceral fear and David’s psychopathic nastiness combine to make a film so brutal you want to look away, but it’s so suspenseful and intense that you can’t.

As Margaret increasingly goes to bits, Resurrection knowingly displays the struggles abuse survivors face – both in terms of trauma and PTSD, the fact that they’re so often disbelieved, and how easy it can be to get sucked back in by an abuser. She’s so desperate to be free and safe that she’d do literally anything, and the film points out that this is something that could be used to make her look like the instigator (which is especially relevant in the aftermath of the Depp v. Heard trial).

But it’s not what Margaret does which is the most affecting, it’s what she says when she finally opens up. David’s actions are revealed in a long, brutally emotional monologue where the camera’s focus is entirely on Hall. Every minute emotion that flickers across her face is captured in excruciating detail. This scene is one of the most memorable. Immediately afterwards, however, her story is treated as a sick joke, and met with an awkward response of ‘feel better’.

This is where the thriller goes wrong in the handling of Margaret’s character. Her trauma is highlighted and it’s made clear that she’s a woman on the edge. But instead of creating a scenario where we can root for her, the film continually calls her sanity into question. Yes, she clearly has PTSD, but that’s not the same as portraying a character as downright insane. Resurrection often errs on the side of the latter, and in a situation where we should support and believe women in their fight against abuse it comes across as being in poor taste.

As such, Resurrection's resolution may not be the one some viewers will want. It certainly wasn’t for me. It’s absolutely shocking and unexpected, and you won’t soon forget it, but it’s far from satisfying.

The film may not get everything right, but it’s brutal, tense, and driven by two incredible performances as volatile characters from Hall and Roth.

Resurrection is screening on 11th June at Sundance Film Festival London.

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