Sundance 2022 Review: Andrew Semans’ “Resurrection” Becomes an Object of Obsession

“It’s not creepy to want to look at your child,” Margaret (Rebecca Hall) tells her daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), staring at her from the hallway as she tries to play an RPG in her bedroom in “Resurrection” and her 17-year-old hopes to be left alone. Abbie’s weeks away from college, a fact that Margaret, a confident pharmaceutical exec, doesn’t seem all too fazed by, but a series of odd events have led her to be more protective – a bike accident while out with her friend, a strange desire to sketch again after not drawing anything in over two decades and the especially bizarre discovery Abbie makes in her wallet of a stray tooth that she has no idea where it came from. None of these things have any correlation to each other except in Margaret’s mind, but it leads to the point where Margaret is willing to pay her daughter $20 to respond to her copious texts.

With just two films under his belt, it’s clear obsession is something that writer/director Andrew Semans is obsessed with, appreciating how otherwise rational people can be completely undone by their fixations and how they can continually justify their behavior that is inexplicable to everyone else. His darkly comic debut “Nancy, Please,” admittedly one of my favorite films of the past decade, concerned a Ph.D candidate who believes the only reason he can’t write his thesis paper is because his former roommate has his annotated copy of “Little Dorrit,” and he raises the stakes considerably for his second feature, a gloriously unhinged psychological thriller that sees Margaret stop at nothing to ensure her daughter never experiences what she had to at that age. It’s best not to reveal what that is, though it’s nightmare fuel that Hall delivers in a showstopping extended monologue to a co-worker that would be reason enough to consider “Resurrection” a must see, but it should be said that naturally it involves Tim Roth at his greasiest as David, a scientist from her past who she’s utterly terrified to see at a biotech confab she’s attending.

As Margaret begins making increasingly erratic decisions at home and around the office, she confides in a co-worker (Angela Wong Carbone) that the two had a relationship when she was 19 and he was at least 20 years her senior, consensual but seen in retrospect as inappropriate, but there’s something else that has been ringing around in her mind — as it happens, for about the 22 years since she stopped drawing — and it’s why David’s reappearance now is bound to throw her off-course to an even greater degree than it did then. It is here where “Resurrection” goes completely off the rails and you’re either along for the ride or not, but a fiercely committed Hall and Semans’ courage to see his convictions through to the end make all the film’s increasingly outrageous choices ultimately satisfying.

Although the shock value is immediately arresting, it’s riveting how the writer/director considers the trauma that Margaret has carried with her and long suppressed since David was last in her life, angry at herself for submitting to such a foundationally unbalanced and eventually abusive power dynamic in the first place and feeling as if she’s being held hostage once again when David has a piece of information in the present that he knows he can hold over her, even if it seems too improbable to be true. When she tears apart her life to chase him down, telling herself it’s all for someone else — her daughter, the insidious nature of how exactly David took advantage of her without being considered criminal comes to light and Hall and Semans are gifted enough to bring it out into the open in the most unsettling ways. Unnerving well before its totally and deservedly batshit conclusion, arguably the closest that any American has come to the perverse perfection of the finale of Takashi Mike’s “Audition,” it’s only fair that “Resurrection” sears itself into the mind when it shrewdly contends with the nastiest ideas that won’t go away.

“Resurrection” will screen at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24th for a 24-hour window beginning at 8 am MT.