Somewhere near the end of “Resurrection,” a sleek, hurtling, ridiculously entertaining horror movie from Andrew Semans, there’s a scene of such gruesomely bonkers intent that I actually gasped. And then I laughed, tickled by how easily Semans and his star, the charismatic Rebecca Hall, had persuaded me to invest in their lunatic shenanigans.
But then Hall — as proven in last year’s creep-out, “The Night House” — has a knack for pumping gravitas into somewhat batty narratives. Here, she plays Margaret, an executive in some sort of pharmaceutical outfit, and from the start we notice an intensity that verges on obsessiveness. Whether at work or as the protective single mother to her teenage daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), Margaret is a model of calculated control. Even her sex life is rigidly regulated, the liaisons with her married co-worker, Peter (Michael Esper), unfolding with more efficiency than pleasure. It’s not that Margaret is cold — more than once, we see her empathetically counsel a young intern to leave an emotionally abusive boyfriend — it’s just that she seems permanently on guard.
But against what? Clues start to accumulate. Abbie, who’s about to leave for college, finds a human molar in her wallet. Later, the sight of a mysterious man in a lecture room causes Margaret to blanch and shake, as if she has seen a ghost. More than two decades earlier, she was involved with this man, David (Tim Roth), and the relationship has left her, quite literally, scarred. Now, he seems to want something, showing up randomly without approaching her until, terrified, she accosts him. His vulpine grin reveals a missing tooth.
As we’re about to learn, David is more than a heel, he’s a hellion, and what begins as the story of a stalking skids rapidly into depravity and humiliation. And when Margaret’s carefully cultivated life starts to crack — she’s sniping at colleagues and fiercely monitoring Abbie’s movements — “Resurrection” teases a familiar fable of female disintegration. But Semans, who debuted in 2013 with the cheeky psycho-comedy, “Nancy, Please,” is too confident an explorer of twisted minds to settle for cliché. The bargain that David hopes to strike with Margaret concerning a long-ago tragedy is unbelievable, unthinkable, insane. Yet Roth’s eerily still body language and quietly sinister line readings choke the urge to laugh. He’s a magnetic sadist.
Encouraged by Jim Williams’s unsettling score, Hall and Roth convincingly sell their characters’ sick psychological bond. So while “Resurrection” harbors more than one theme — empty-nest anxieties, toxic men and the long tail of their manipulations — the movie feels more like an unhinged test of how far into the loonyverse the audience can be persuaded to venture.
That’s why Hall’s skin-prickling, 7-minute monologue early in the film is so critical. As the screen darkens behind her and her pale face fills the frame, she recounts Margaret and David’s horrifying history with irresistible sincerity. It’s the perfect setup for an ending of such delicious ambiguity it was all I could do not to applaud.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In theaters.