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Sundance 2022: Resurrection takes a baffling turn

resurrection

Resurrection won’t be for everyone, but its bold, mind-boggling twists will win some devoted fans.

(This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 Sundance Festival)

Over the course of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, one of the recurring themes among the featured films has been an examination of motherhood, with approaches ranging from the sincere to the satirical to the downright nutty. Perhaps the most overt example of the latter is Andrew Seman’s Resurrection, which starts off as a grim and gripping psychological thriller, only to take a wild and abrupt shift into something else entirely.

Rebecca Hall plays Margaret, the type of strong-willed and supremely put-together woman who seems destined to be played in a movie by Rebecca Hall. She has a good job at a pharmaceutical company, is carrying on a no-strings-attached affair with a co-worker (Michael Esper), and is a doting and attentive mother to her 17-year-old daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman). If there’s one chink in her otherwise flawless persona, it’s that she’s perhaps a little too overprotective of Abbie, and has been going into overdrive now that Abbie is preparing to go away to college.

Then some strange things begin to occur, such as Abbie inexplicably discovering a human molar tucked away in her wallet. Later, Margaret attends a conference and spies a man in the crowd whose presence so disturbs her that she literally bolts out of the building and runs home. The man is David (Tim Roth), and he suddenly begins to turn up everywhere. When Margaret confronts him, it’s revealed that he’s not a stranger, but rather a man she was involved with two decades earlier in a relationship that descended into cruelty and manipulation. Oh yeah, and when he grins at her, he just happens to be missing a molar.

[It] starts off as a grim and gripping psychological thriller, only to take a wild & abrupt shift into something else entirely.

Up to this point, the film is strong stuff, supported by Seman’s subtly sinister screenplay and direction and the impeccable performances from Hall and Roth, both of whom are as good here as they have ever been. However, it stumbles when it explains the true nature of Margaret and David’s relationship, and why the sight of David is enough to reduce the seemingly indomitable Margaret into a quivering and increasingly irrational bundle of nerves. It finally comes in the form of an extended monologue that Margaret delivers to an intern at her office (Angela Wong Carbone), who is seeking advice on how to handle her own bad boyfriend. I wouldn’t dream of hinting at the big reveal but, suffice it to say, the intern will be speaking for many in the audience when she finally responds “Is this a joke?” Not only is it not a joke, the film runs with this revelation right up to its grisly jaw-dropper of a climax.

As I said, whether Resurrection works for you or not will depend almost entirely on how you roll with the narrative punches and for myself, I couldn’t quite go with it. Now I am reasonable enough to recognize that perhaps we aren’t meant to read these revelations literally. It could even be argued that the entire story is nothing more than a hallucination. The problem is that to see these events actually play out before our eyes makes them begin to seem a little ridiculous as they progress, a sensation that is not helped by the extremely self-serious way in which it has all been presented.

That said, even as it grows more preposterous from a dramatic standpoint, Resurrection is still kind of compelling, thanks to its cool and elegant style (a decided contrast to the overheated script) and the two central performances. That monologue may ultimately be nuts, but I can’t immediately think of another actress who could have delivered it better than Hall does here. I also suppose that I perversely admire Resurrection for its willingness to go off in such a wild direction and stick with it to the end, even if the gamble doesn’t ultimately pay off. This is a film that certainly has the courage of its artistic convictions—I just wish that they had been deployed in the service of a project that fully deserved them.

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Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a Chicago-based filmcritic whose work can be seen at RogerEbert.com, EFilmcritic.com and, well, here. He is also on the board for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the Chicago Film Critics Association. Yes, he once gave four stars to “Valerian” and he would do it again.

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