What makes Margaret run? In “Resurrection,” a dark and absurd psychopathic thriller, she roams the streets of the city, her limbs pumping like pistons, a furious spring with each accelerated step. It’s his morning exercise routine, but his demonic pace and half-panicked, half-determined expression suggest otherwise; Margaret, played by the ever-brilliant Rebecca Hall, doesn’t seem to run as far as a way of something. It literally becomes the case one day at work, when something alarming catches her eye and makes her run away and fuss, desperate to keep moving past a past that finally seems to have caught up with her.
Writer-director Andrew Semans (“Nancy, Please”) keeps his heroine locked in his camera’s viewfinder, even when she doesn’t make it easy. When we first meet her, Margaret seems calmly in control of herself and her surroundings, from her swanky high-rise apartment to the glass-walled executive suite where she works. This control is expressed in ways you could almost dismiss as a standard “tightly wounded” issue: in the physically intense but emotionless sex she has with a married co-worker (Michael Esper); in the harsh supportive advice she gives to an intern (Angela Wong Carbone) who is in a bad relationship; and especially in her close watch over her own college-going daughter, Abbie (a terrific Grace Kaufman).
Margaret and Abbie’s well-observed bond—full of mutual affection, even as the latter grows increasingly irritated under the former’s tight reins—is one of the best things about “Resurrection.” When strange things start to happen to Abbie – a strange discovery, a bicycle accident – we naturally share Margaret’s parental concern. But Abbie, in turn, provides us with a logical take on Margaret, regarding her mother at first with mild exasperation, then with mounting concern. And what ultimately gives this film its sustained tension is the extent to which it persuades us to abandon logic altogether, to place ourselves on Margaret’s wavelength even as her words and actions defy reality. ‘understanding. When the camera follows her down an office hallway or across a park yard, it almost seems to be pulling her – or is she being pulled by his? – into the depths of a threatening new world.
Or maybe an old one. The soon-to-be-revealed source of Margaret’s anxieties is a man named David (an inescapably sinister Tim Roth), whom she begins to spot in public places—at a work conference, in a department store—and who she finally finds the courage to face it: “Go away”, she whispers, all that steely assurance having suddenly disappeared from her voice. David, for his part, pretends not to know her at first, but within moments he casually reveals that he really does know her. These two have a certain history, one that takes its time to unravel, though both actors are superb at suggesting the toxic core dynamic through expressions and intonations: Hall with downward gazes and swear words whispered, Roth with the insinuating, deceptively pleasant voice of a cult leader. calm.
In time, the whole truth will come out, in a monologue that Margaret delivers, for minutes, to an unblinking camera that seems to have finally managed to corner her. The backstory details are grisly, ghastly, and borderline laughable, and if not for Hall’s unwaveringly sympathetic and fiercely internalized performance, laughter might indeed have been the appropriate response. But Hall’s unrivaled ability to put himself under the skin of a protagonist (to say nothing of yours), previously on display in biographical drama “Christine” and supernatural horror film “The Night House,” forces us to take Margaret seriously. The same goes for filmmaking, every strategy of which – the long takes and gray-to-dark tones of Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography, the stabbing arpeggios of Jim Williams’ score – provide a formal complement to Hall’s every tick and gesture. .
There’s more at work here than Hall’s unsurprising mastery of the emotion of exposed nerves; she and Semans, striking unnervingly dissonant chords at every turn, seem to work in near perfect harmony. Which isn’t to say the movie itself is nearly perfect. Like Alex Garland’s more demonstrative and unhinged recent ‘Men’, which he would make a pleasingly chilling feminist horror double project with, ‘Resurrection’ doesn’t entirely rid itself of the feel of a gender image wrapped around ‘a carefully crafted thesis, one that’s sometimes too eager to make sure we don’t miss its #MeToo-era resonance or its feminist horror bona fide.
Both films draw – at least in their unrestricted closing passages – from the intense body horror of filmmakers like David Cronenberg. Both also 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 pretty clear. Perhaps a tormented mind, pushed far enough, has ways of forging its own fragile reality. A seemingly resting mind could still, in fact, run faster than ever.
Operating time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Glendale; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown Los Angeles; Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Laemmle Monica Cinema Center, Santa Monica; Harkins Chino Hills 18 Theaters; available August 5 on streaming platforms