(Theaters/VOD/Shudder soon) Horror films have been pilloried recently by so-called genre fans for works that they feel focus too much on personal trauma. Films like HEREDITY have been dismissed as over-wrought projected therapy that shouldn’t exist, solely because they prioritize emotional trauma.
That thought is preposterous. Horror as a genre, especially in film, has always been about reckoning with trauma. One of the first iconic horror films, THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, displays the cultural guilt of a post-WWI Germany. The noir horror/thrillers of the 40s grappled with post-WWII anxiety regarding gender, male displacement, and general PTSD. Atomic horror films of the 50s were born from nightmares of nuclear destruction. Slashers of the 70s were creations of the senselessness of the Vietnam war and even more PTSD. Slashers of the 80s inherit from the 70s, but turn reactionary in the same way as noir horror of the 40s with male anxiety towards women, and women being seen solely as prey. So much of 80s and 90s horror is based on the (lack of) reckoning with the AIDS pandemic.
SCREAM, as I’ve previously noted, opens with Sidney already being a survivor. That entire franchise is an ouroboros of media-centric trauma.
Horror has always been a safe space for reckoning with personal and cultural trauma, and it will always be one, allowing for works like RESURRECTION to exist.
That said, placing yourself in these spaces is often not a pleasant experience.
A post-film text to my wife:
“Why the fuck do I put myself through this?”
RESURRECTION is the second feature from NANCY, PLEASE director Andrew Semans, and fully features Rebecca Hall (CHRISTINE, THE NIGHT HOUSE) as Margaret, a successful higher-up at a pharmaceutical company and single mother to a daughter who is about to head off to college. Margaret has an intern who she recognizes is in a bad relationship and helps to ease her from the toxicity, as she recognizes the symptoms. Margaret appears to have it all, someone who has it all figured out and deftly navigates her career and life, at least until she sees ‘him’ again at a work conference.
The interloper — ‘him’ — is David (Tim Roth), a scientist friend of Margaret’s parents who worked on an expedition of theirs when Margaret was traveling with them as a teen. While being a lauded scientist, he’s also an expert in coercion, and thanks partially to the pre-occupied eyes of her libertine parents, Margaret and David became entangled.
It’s been years since Margaret has seen David, and she presumed him dead, but he then appears everywhere. She believes he’s stalking her, but then he reveals why he’s been appearing, and it has to do with the monstrous events that occurred in her past.
He then falls back in line with his prior behavior, gaslighting her, playing with her, and she falls in line, following his instructions, feeling powerless.
A follow-up text:
“(Don’t answer that question. This was just a bad idea in general.)”
A lot of digital ink has and will be spilled about the absurdity of the events portrayed in RESURRECTION, and how only an actor of Hall’s caliber could sell them but, as I was watching, I found it all too relatable. I’ll restrain from detailing the film any further, but if you’ve lived through even an iota of what Margaret has been put through, it feels too familiar.
Regardless of how you read the film, how real the events are or aren’t meant to be — Semans has gone on record as saying that it’s up to audience interpretation — the character of David appears out-of-nowhere and completely upends Margaret’s life. If you’ve lived with trauma, abuse, or persistent anxiety and memory recall, it will feel all too relatable. RESURRECTION absolutely nails that inscrutable feeling of someone who will always have some command over your life, whether they’re physically there or not. You are endlessly haunted by them. They will always follow you. They will always find you.
Horror as a storytelling genre is fundamentally about confronting the darkest depths of what people are capable of, but it’s also about how those entangled in those webs react. While horror works are often written off as cautionary tales, it feels like we’ve culturally progressed to a point of acknowledging that there’s no avoiding being harmed. You will be hurt. You will be abused. You will be taken advantage of, and you will be haunted by those who have taken advantage of you, and all you can try to do is what Margaret does, which is to recognize and rebuff, and then dig deep and tear asunder, even if those around you don’t understand your actions.
Hopefully you have friends and loving families, but if you don’t, you have fictional works like RESURRECTION to allow you to keep your head above water, reminding you that you are not alone, that it’s okay that you feel haunted, that you hurt, that you will not forget, even if you desperately want to.
I highly recommend reading Katie Rife’s piece on RESURRECTION which is a far better review than mine.