Rebecca Hall is one of our great, underrated actresses. She holds the screen like few others and is unafraid to play seriously flawed characters. Is anyone better at showcasing stubbornness, brittleness, or austerity? From VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA to THE GIFT to THE NIGHT HOUSE, she has created coolly precise characters whom you can’t help but be drawn to, even if they’re often kind of awful. Maybe it’s those big, sad eyes of hers that keep us vested. Hall always adds a pained vulnerability to even those characters with overwhelming resolve. That’s evident again in her newest film, a thriller entitled RESURRECTION. And while Hall is compelling, the script by writer/director Andrew Semans lets her down. Too much of the story is unrelatable, turning a character we should be sympathizing with into one that the script turns repellant.
The story starts strong, as strong as Hall’s character Margaret. At work, Margaret’s the smartest and most confident manager in the office. She counsels interns with exact language and runs meetings like a general. Margaret performs her daily run with a similar aggressiveness, her strides slicing the air like a chef at Benihana. And when she’s home, Margaret takes an avid interest in all the things her challenging daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) unwisely gets involved in, from boys to partying. Mom may start to turn mothering into smothering, but at least her heart is in the right place.
Margaret is less sympathetic when she uses her co-worker Peter (Michael Esper) for sex, even berating him for not being able to perform when she hungers for a bathroom tryst at the office. Peter is a married man, so he’s not exactly in the best position to judge his lover’s behavior, but Margaret’s curtness with him is not a good look. Still, Hall keeps us sympathetic to this single mother who’s trying to balance all aspects of her hectic world.
Then one day, another man enters her life. He is David (Tim Roth), a familiar face from her past, and Margaret starts to unravel. It turns out that he was her lover 20 + years ago, a controlling jerk whom she ran away from after some devastating occurrences. So, why is he back? And why does he still have such sway over Margaret? Semans lets Hall tell the backstory in one, rather incredible take, but it doesn’t make us feel more sympathy for Margaret. Rather, it conjures up questions about her mental competence. Maybe that’s the point, but it seems like a betrayal of the character.
And the more David is around, the more Margaret finds herself backsliding into some terrible habits, some that are almost laughably absurd. Soon, she starts succumbing to his insinuating dominance, and in that arc, Semans and yes, even Hall, lose the good will built up for the lead. Tim Roth is serviceable in the role of David, but he’s not presented as either charming or attractive, so it’s hard to see how he’d still have such a hold on Margaret two decades after their affair ended nastily.
Little else really happens in the movie after that beyond the further ugly deterioration of Margaret’s character in all aspects of her life. The film starts to become repetitive, irritating, and finally, rather dull. Semans is good at creating mood and tension, but his story drifts into the inexplicable. Hall does her damnedest to try to make it work, and I’m not sure she’s ever been this fraught on screen before, but her Margaret becomes way too strident and borderline ridiculous. One starts to wonder how this woman survived as a single mom or corporate shark all these years. Shouldn’t Margaret be able to cut through some of her ex’s bullshit? Would she really allow everything she’s built for two decades to suffer so? Where is her inner Benihana chef when she needs it?
On the one hand, it’s great to see Hall and any filmmaker like Semans tell smaller, character-driven pieces versus cookie-cutter, big-budget action flicks. Hall made THE NIGHT HOUSE sing in such a way as a lonely woman trying to get a grip on supernatural forces screwing with her psyche. But while RESURRECTION may think it’s riveting as it resurrects the toxic relationship from Margaret’s past, it becomes an unsavory slog to view on screen. If Margaret is that fragile, and frankly, that pathetic, it’s the wrong kind of rug pull we want in a thriller.