Rebecca Hall reliably portrays female excess with gusto and strong sincerity. Whether she’s playing a grief-stricken widow or a victim of circumstances, Hall is a staunch performer in nuanced characterization. Here, a woman on the brink of emotional distress has never felt so raw and unapologetically fierce as Hall’s performance does in Andrew Semans’s Resurrection. Starring alongside Tim Roth, Hall plays Margaret, a woman with a past that haunts her in nightmares and well into motherhood. Resurrection is an eerie game of abuse that centers around the mental and physical traumas of a woman who lived under the shadow of a much older, manipulative, and violent man. It’s a rather intimate insight into victims’ states of mind that doesn’t shy away from the more complex parts of their survival.
Hall’s Margaret is a successful businesswoman who lives in New York as a single mother to a young girl getting ready to leave for college. Amidst growing pains and fears of empty nesting, Margaret gets an unexpected visit from a man that once held her hostage in more ways than one. It’s a reminder of her past that she’s been trying to forget through affairs with married men, manifesting as hovering over her daughter as she gets ready to leave. It isn’t until Margaret runs into David (Tim Roth) at a conference that everything begins to crumble. Not necessarily out of the blue, considering her affair with Peter (Michael Esper) and her apprehension toward her daughter’s departure. David’s reappearance in her life reminds her of the agency she once lost at a very young age.
Semans’ Resurrection gives voice to the trapped screams of victims whose voices are robbed. Whose experiences are challenged by structures that barely understand the minds of victims who wake up every day and survive their past. When Margaret was 18, she and her parents were charmed by a much older David. A charm that makes parents believe their child is in the safe hands of a complete stranger who turns out to be an abusive sociopath. In an act of jealousy, David killed his and Margaret’s son and convinced her, amid her grief, that he ate their son, who now lives inside of him. It’s quite on-the-nose as a metaphor for his full consumption of Margaret’s love for her son. Another notch of control he held over her. Years after Margaret escaped David, he’s back to torture her again. Remind her of all she’s lost: her son, her safety, and her agency.
Most of the film is grounded in Hall’s frenetic and raw performance. Every moment Hall is on screen, it’s hard to look away from the unpredictable nature of her character. And yet, there’s a level of vulnerability that shines from time to time as her character becomes more desperate to be believed. Once David returns, no one in her life believes who he is and what he did to her. A lot like most victims of abuse are questioned. Hall’s desperation is a palpable and unwavering reminder of the internal foundational cracks of a victim’s sense of safety in the world. It’s also a violent reminder of the hold men like David can have over women like Margaret, who, after surviving David, appears to be a sophisticated, grounded, and confident businesswoman. She appears assertive, has affairs with married men, and affirms the rules of her own body and life.
It’s a stark reminder of how much acts of violence and abuse can shake any woman’s foundation. Sometimes surviving isn’t enough, and cloaking in a fronting dominant persona can’t ever prepare the mind when confronting the past. Margaret wasn’t prepared; no matter how much she moved up the corporate ladder or built walls around herself and other men, David never gave back the autonomy he took from her. Resurrection is a horrific yet profound exploration of victimhood through the lens of faux female strength. Of the armor women don each morning as they live in fear of losing their agency once again. Of the flashbacks that intrude in violent ways, completely unprompted. Their bodies become sources of violence and pleasure for men who disregard their sense of self and see them as cut-out versions of who they are.
Having seen Resurrection back in January during Sundance Film Festival, it still perturbed my mind rewatching it now. Hall is an exceptional powerhouse actress who disappears in any role she takes. Her role as Margaret is audacious and tragic in ways that contradict themselves, as she loses patience with a girl in the office who’s been abused by her current boyfriend. It dares to ask the question: do victims of abuse owe understanding to other victims? Does their abuse make them “experts” in helping other victims navigate their own accounts of violence? In the case of Margaret, and many other victims, sometimes handling their own emotional turmoils is overwhelming enough.