Contains major spoilers for “Resurrection”
It’s been a good summer for horror — “X,” “Crimes of the Future,” “Nope,” “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies” and now, Andrew Semans’ “Resurrection.” Each of these toes a line between destined-for-cable ’70s slasher schlock and its own generational moment.
“Bodies, Bodies, Bodies” stretches the manipulative potential of Gen Z therapyspeak to a simultaneously sinister and airheaded extent, while “Crimes of the Future” finds gory meaning in the duplicitous role technology assumes as a life support which further harms an ecologically doomed planet. This mutilating protection is the bleeding heart of “Resurrection.”
The film concerns the attempts of a biotechnology executive named Maggie (Rebecca Hall) to shield herself and her nearly 18-year-old daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) from her abusive ex David (Tim Roth). She uses what downtime this leaves her to “helicopter-parent” Abbie, shag her coworker Peter (Michael Esper) and counsel her intern Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone), who leaves an abusive partner. She also runs a lot.
It is difficult to pull off a character who is as thoroughly unlikeable as she is deeply traumatized, but Hall manages this flawlessly. It is soon apparent why Maggie smothers Abbie like their lives depend on it. She sees David — at a conference, at a store, at the park. Twenty-two years after their split, he looks haggard and she acts like prey.
Roth does a good, if conspicuous, job of playing the foil, punctuating evil threats with evil smiles. It brings to mind the reason Stephen King protested Jack Nicholson’s casting in “The Shining”: The actor so masters his role that he leaves no room for nuance. As soon as he walks on screen, it’s clear which side of hell he’s from.
Hall does an accurate — if overacted — job of being manipulated. If a psychiatrist were to lug a DSM-5 to the matinee, there wouldn’t be a box unchecked between “psychosis” and “psychological abuse.” In one (utterly justified) hysterical fit, Maggie bumps a table in an attempt to stand, heaves a blustery “I’m sorry,” bumps it again, pauses a few seconds and heaves some more.
If the acting is unbelievably obvious, the exposition is even more unbelievably lazy. Maggie reveals the film’s entire backstory in one close-up monologue, sentimental music and hazy flashbacks of a squalling baby and all. Every scene is so condescendingly overworked that Hall and Roth are genuinely impressive for playing them as sincerely as they do.
By committing to neither icy psychological horror nor freakish gorefest, Semans achieves a muddled mix. Luckily, slashers are like pornos in that people rarely come for the plot. Here it is: David would shower Maggie with affection when she followed his orders; he called these “kindnesses.” She got pregnant. The baby, Benjamin, was the first person she loved more than David.
The first time she left him alone, she came back with “two of Ben’s fingers on the counter.” David ate him and gaslighted her into believing that Ben was inside his belly, “suffering, trapped, but alive.” In one scene which suspends disbelief as little as it suspends Freudianism, she leans her head against his paunch and actually hears a baby crying.
When she sees David years later, she surveils Abbie to the point of forbidding her to leave the house; whenever Abbie does, Maggie humps Peter. The film excels at three things: humiliation, blood and guts.
Abbie is humiliatingly surveilled and when she tries to escape, a drunk biking accident lands her in the ER. David swears to leave if Maggie performs kindnesses; they begin with her walking to work barefoot, tromping her dignity down scalding pavement. She justifies her obedience like a stillborn-again evangelist, insisting that “When you become a mother, your life doesn’t mean so much anymore. You become disposable, gloriously disposable.”
A knife fight with David proves him the disposable one. When he wrests away the dagger taped to Maggie’s arm, she whips out a second dagger taped to her calf and stabs a Caesarian in him, pulling his intestines like a magician pulling a knotted stream of hankies from a hat only to extract — yes, folks — baby Ben. The next day, Maggie and Abbie settle their differences while cooing over him.
Mummy gets what mummy wants.