There have been many examinations of the stalker phenomenon on screen over the years, from deeply horrific to psychologically probing, but rarely one that does both sides as well as Resurrection. In select theaters now and coming to VOD August 5 from IFC Films, writer/director Andrew Semans’ excruciating thriller is further proof of the gifts of its two lead actors, Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth, who together create one of the most twisted “relationships” in recent movie memory.
Margaret (Hall) is a woman who seems to have full control of her life as the film opens, balancing a successful job in the pharmaceutical industry, single motherhood of her teen daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman), and a casual affair with a married co-worker. Then David (Tim Roth), a face from what turns out to be an extremely troubled past, reappears to throw her existence and sense of security completely out of whack. As we learn further details of their shared backstory (largely during a galvanizing monologue Hall delivers in an unbroken seven-minute-plus take), their situation becomes increasingly unnerving, paying off in a climactic sequence that has been blowing the minds of audiences across the festival circuit.
Hall recalls a similar reaction when she first read Semans’ screenplay. “It was one of those scripts that, for want of a better metaphor, just left my jaw on the floor. I couldn’t quite believe it; I thought it was an amazingly confident piece of writing, and very daring. I wasn’t entirely convinced that it would work, which is a funny thing to say, but because of its audacity, I was fascinated to be part of trying to pull it off. I’d never read anything like it, and I like material that surprises me, and I felt that I was not going to be bored playing Margaret.”
Roth similarly says, “When I got this script and read it, I was like, ‘What is this??’ My youngest son and I were on our way to Cannes, and I gave it to him and he read it and said, ‘Oh, you’re doing this!’ so I said, ‘OK, I’m doing it, then.’ It read in one way on the page that really got me thinking, and then when I spoke to Andrew for the first time, we talked about, OK, how do we bring David to life? And the idea was, OK, what if the way I play him is, he’s just a good guy, and pretty sweet, actually? Caring and worried about this woman that he’s had a long relationship with. It’s actually quite old-school, going back to proper movies, in a sense. You look back at studio movies that had a complicated way of thinking, when they were allowed to. A little bit of Claude Rains; he always had a twinkle in his eye when he was a monster.”
Indeed, one of the most fascinating things about Resurrection is that David doesn’t pose an overtly violent threat to Margaret. Instead, he’s a master manipulator, able to worm his way back into her psyche and influence her behavior, until she has all but surrendered complete control of her life to him. Hall reveals that part of her process of getting into Margaret’s headspace involved getting the rest of her body into shape.
“I was quite fastidious about working out, which was sort of a funny one for me. She runs so much, and she’s always in control of her environment, so I thought it would be interesting for me to be very rigorously in control of my body, and that was helpful. Most of the time, though, I approached the role how I approach a lot of stuff, which is fairly intuitively: I imagine myself in a situation and see what happens.” Another choice she made was to retain her natural accent: “The biggest change I asked for was for Margaret to be British, because there was no real need for her to be American. I’ve played a lot of Americans, I’m half-American, I live in America, but I felt the need to do something a bit different than what I had done recently. I thought it might be interesting to root the role in something that was real for me, and therefore I decided to use my own dialect. Part of it was to sort of distance Margaret, for my own sort of selfish thinking as an actor, from [her previous genre role as Beth in David Bruckner’s The Night House]. It was nice to move away from that, so I didn’t get swept up in a previous character too much.”
For Roth, the key to playing David was “always shifting the emotion, always shifting the ground under Margaret’s feet and the audience’s feet, and trying to keep that going all the way through. And also not falling into the trap of doing bad-guy acting, all of that stuff, which is not my cup of tea. That was the launchpad, really, for building the character, and then to dance with Rebecca made everything easy.”
The depth of history the two actors bring to their scenes together is especially impressive considering that Roth only joined the Resurrection shoot during its last couple of weeks, after the rest had been filmed, and the duo didn’t have much prep time. “I believe they were already shooting when the script landed [with me],” Roth says, “so I just jumped right in. Rebecca and I spent as much time as we could together, trying to get to know each other a little bit. I was rather in awe, because she’s such an extraordinary actor. Normally I would have loved to have more time to prepare, but it actually did no damage to just jump right in with her, since she was so good; you really have to up your game when you’re working with her. You’ve got to be ready, and it puts you on your toes right away.”
Hall also had no issues with the limited time they spent together; in fact, she says that not having Roth on set for the earlier portions of Resurrection “was weirdly helpful, because I could just sort of imagine the worst possible version of Tim Roth before he showed up. And then when he did show up, he was quite nice! I mean, I didn’t actively avoid him [when they weren’t filming]; that’s not the kind of actor I am. I just believe in…acting [laughs], and it doesn’t help me particularly to be obsessed with it all the time between takes, and try to constantly be in that headspace.”
It was equally easy for Roth, he remembers, to shake off his character when the cameras weren’t rolling. “When we were doing a scene, after Andrew called ‘Cut!’ we would burst into laughter! When you work with someone like Rebecca, every day’s a school day, because she’s always a surprise in every take, at every moment—like, what’s she gonna bring? And so, as tiring as a day could be—certainly mostly for her, by far—there was always a lot of laughter in the air, because when you stepped back after you’d done a take, you’d go, ‘OK, what was that? What did we just do?’ It was good fun.”
For Resurrection’s viewers, the WTF factor will be especially high (SPOILER ALERT) during the climactic action, in which the emotional abuse gives way to seriously visceral, gruesomely freaky territory. “There was quite a bit of blood involved, though nothing comes close to Reservoir Dogs,” Roth says. “That was weeks of it. Ever since then, the blood thing has been like, ‘Oh, do I have to?’ I’m a bit high-maintenance when it comes to that, because of my experience with it, but hey, it’s what you do. The makeup thing here was interesting, and it actually had more of a connection, oddly, to Planet of the Apes, because of the prosthetics involved. It was an experience I found fascinating at that time. The makeup guys did the same thing on Resurrection; they created full, three-dimensional pieces—there you go, there it is—and then they had the ability to add to that with CGI. I’ve done that a few times, and I always love the process.”
Hall’s own résumé in the genre tends more toward the cerebral than the grisly; in addition to The Night House, she impressed in 2015’s The Gift and 2011’s The Awakening. She also made her directorial debut with last year’s acclaimed racial drama Passing, and is open to the idea of helming a scary movie in the future. “I think genre films sometimes can hit at an idea indirectly in a much stronger way than something that’s hitting it directly. I’ve always been a fan of genre for that reason, so I can see myself doing it, for sure. I mean, in some ways, Passing is a psychological thriller. I don’t particularly like fitting in boxes very neatly, though, so I suspect if I move toward genre, it would be something that would not be particularly easily defined as such.”
See FANGORIA #16, now on sale, for more of our conversation with Hall as well as Resurrection writer/director Andrew Semans.