Resurrection, starring Rebecca Hall and written and directed by Andrew Semans, is a psychological thriller film about a professional woman getting her life together when her abusive ex-boyfriend begins stalking her and her daughter. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise directed primarily at Hall’s magnetic performance.
I consider myself a Rebecca Hall fan and I love her performances, particularly in the horror thriller genre. Last year I watched two of Hall’s horror movies, The Night House, a terrifying and unsettling exploration of loss, trauma, and secrets, and The Gift, a thriller about vengeance and lies. Resurrection continues the trend of traumatizing Hall’s characters, but unlike in The Night House and The Gift, both of which ended on seemingly hopeful notes as Hall’s characters realize their own agency and leave behind the garbage men holding them back, there’s nothing happy or hopeful about the end of Resurrection. It is a sad and dark flick. It’s not always clear what’s going on in the movie and it leaves a lot of room for interpretation, so join me as I do what I do best: interpret.
Before you read any further, consider this your official spoiler warning as I’ll be discussing spoilers from the film. I would also like to issue a content warning: this review contains discussions around trauma, grief, brainwashing, abuse, and infant loss.
Resurrection is a deeply unsettling film about the long-term effects of psychological and physical abuse, manipulation, and brainwashing. The film follows Margaret, who seemingly has her life together and is preparing for her daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman) to leave the safety of home for adventures of college and adulthood. Margaret has a high-powered job and listens to her employees, often offering her advice in navigating tricky relationship issues. Margaret views herself as strong; she knows what she wants and she thinks she’s put the worst behind her.
As the audience, we know this isn’t the case. Margaret’s morning runs look less like exercise and more like she’s running away from something. She’s very controlling over her daughter, constantly hovering and constantly worrying. However, everything changes for her when the man responsible for inflicting horrific trauma on her suddenly pops up 20 years after Margaret escaped him.
Tim Roth plays the sadistic, creepy, and controlling man, David, who groomed Margaret when she was 18 and forced her into a horrific situation in which she bowed to his every whim, tasks like walking barefoot outside, sexual favors, being stuck in the same yoga pose for hours on end, and anything in which he could break her mentally and exert her physically. Eventually, Margaret gives birth to their son Ben, but David kills the infant and claims he ate him, and that the baby is still alive in his stomach. Margaret flees, but David’s return 20 years later means any control she thought she had over her life is gone in an instant.
Margaret becomes desperate to protect herself and her daughter, but in doing so she once again bows to David’s horrible demands; she walks barefoot to work just like he instructs and she is forced into hours-long yoga poses. She never knows when she is being watched or when David might even be in her house. He slips his disgusting tooth in Abbie’s wallet and shows up at the places Margaret frequents. She tries to report him to the police but the police know nothing about actually protecting people, only brutalizing and humiliating them, so of course, they are entirely useless.
She turns the tables and beings stalking David, keeping tabs on him at his motel and the diner he visits, but he’s on to her, and he takes sick pleasure in the control he has over Margaret. He tells her that Ben is still alive in his stomach, and chastises Margaret for being a bad mother and leaving her son in agony. In one scene, David forces Margaret to listen to his stomach, and she’s so traumatized and desperate that she thinks she can hear her son calling to her from inside David.
I think people tend to underestimate how powerful brainwashing is, particularly when you take into account the power dynamic David had over Margaret as an older man preying on a teenager, which she was at the time of their initial encounter. You lose so much of yourself to deep brainwashing and manipulation.
In my personal life, I was brainwashed, manipulated, and abused for 20+ years, starting when I was four years old by a toxic adoptive parent. Everything that was wrong with them, they projected onto me. I grew up being called a master manipulator, a criminal, being told that I didn’t understand or comprehend love and that I was borderline sociopathic. My adoptive parent lied to me starting when I was a young kid and told me that I was born with a severe and rare mental disorder called reactive attachment disorder. When it came out what my adoptive parent was doing, I was 14 and placed into foster care for close to two years.
Despite the abuse, I loved and missed my adoptive parent, and to come home, they instructed me to retract all of my statements of the abuse and call myself a liar. So I did. I wrote letters to the child protective service agents involved in our case and the local Governor’s Advocacy Office, explaining that I lied for attention, that I enjoyed the “poor abused boy routine” and that I simply hated my adoptive parent and wanted to destroy their career. I was forced to label myself a liar to save my adoptive parent, and I did it because I believed everything I was told. I believed it to my core. I believed I was a fake and a fraud. I believed I was a manipulative liar with a dark past.
I think that’s why I connected with Margaret in a way. Our circumstances were entirely different (and hers fictional) and yet the underlying root of the issue is the same, brainwashing and power dynamics. Despite herself, Margaret is drawn into David’s horrific orbit and loses her individuality. It’s heartbreaking, especially when it so severely affects her relationship with her daughter that her daughter leaves her mother and doesn’t look back. Margaret finally confronts David towards the end of the film and doesn’t end well.
They struggle over a knife and stab each other, with Margaret finally losing any connection to reality. She stabs David to death and frees her “baby” from his stomach, but it’s clear at this point that everything is a hallucination. There is no baby, but Margaret is convinced there is. Resurrection ends with Margaret giving her baby to her daughter to hold, but we the audience know that Abbie isn’t there as she fled earlier in the movie. In fact, I think Margaret is dying from the injuries she sustained in the fight, and her final moments alive are her hallucinating about her reunion with her children.
Resurrection is grim and heartbreaking. I’ve even seen some reviews calling it too dark and exploitative. But as someone who is breaking free from the fog of years of brainwashing and manipulation, the movie hit me differently. I also think a lot of Resurrection’s success can be attributed to Rebecca Hall’s captivating performance. There’s a scene in which she delivers a monologue close to eight minutes, and she NAILD it. She’s not afraid of portraying complicated characters, and I think she is quickly becoming a horror mainstay. More Rebecca Hall in horror, please!
Resurrection is not a film for everyone. It’s a slow-burn thriller with mounting dread from the first few minutes when Margaret realizes that someone has been messing around in her office. The film deals with heavy topics, but to me, it never felt cliched or exploitative…just sad and dark and depressing. At the end of the day, the film made me think about the effects of brainwashing. It resonated with me in a way that made me value the time I put into watching it. I’m not sure if Resurrection is something I’d watch again, but I’m glad I added it to my movie watchlist. If you’re looking for a grim film with a mesmerizing lead, check out Resurrection on Shudder.
Thanks for reading my review and check out my website for all things horror and pop culture. Stay nerdy!