Rebecca Hall breathes life into creepy ‘Resurrection’

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

The writer and 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); in the sternly supportive advice she gives an intern (Angela Wong Carbone) who’s in a bad relationship; and above all in the close watch she keeps on her own college-bound daughter, Abbie (a terrific Grace Kaufman).

Margaret and Abbie’s well-observed bond — full of mutual affection, even as the latter’s chafes under the former 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.

Tim Roth and Rebecca Hall in the movie “Resurrection.”

(IFC Films)

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 — at a work conference, in a department store — 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, mock-pleasant calm down.

In time the whole truth will come pouring out, in a monologue that Margaret delivers, for minutes on end, 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 the biographical drama “Christine” and the supernatural horror film “The Night House,” compels us to take Margaret seriously. So does the filmmaking, whose every strategy — the long takes and gray-to-murky tones of Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography, the stabbing arpeggios of Jim Williams’ score — provides a formal complement to Hall’s every tic and.

A woman and her reflection both wear a frightened expression.

Rebecca Hall stars in “Resurrection” from Andrew Semans, an official selection of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

(Wyatt Garfield/Sundance Institute)

There’s more at work here than just Hall’s unsurprising mastery of exposed-nerves 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 feminist-horror double bill, “Resurrection” doesn’t entirely shake off the feel of a genre picture wrapped around a carefully worked-out thissis, 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 no-holds-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.


(Not rated)

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Glendale; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown Los Angeles; Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Harkins Theaters Chino Hills 18; available Aug. 5 on streaming platforms

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