“When I wrote the script for Resurrection, I started it when I wasn’t feeling great about my career or my prospects
in the film industry, and I started writing it for myself,” says Andrew Semans, who wrote and directed the new thriller starring Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth.
“I didn’t think anyone would ever want to make it. I started writing it because I had been frustrated with other scripts I had written and wanted to do something where I gave myself permission to do whatever I wanted, to follow my unconscious, at least initially, and see where it led. It turned out in the end being the script that I wrote that got the most attention and the most praise and ultimately got made into a movie.”
Resurrection is his first film since 2012’s Nancy, Please, a twisty, sometimes comical thriller. The new film follows a successful businesswoman and doting single mother named Margaret (Rebecca Hall) whose life is almost picture-perfect. She has a tremendous work ethic, a teenage daughter (Grace Kaufman) going off to a great university, and enough money to consistently order copious amounts of takeout without guilt. Life is good.
That is, until a mysterious man from her past named David (Roth) reappears, threatening to horrifically unspool the fabric of her carefully quilted life. We talked with Semans about his cinematic return, working with Rebecca Hall, and the inspirations for his film about the lengths a mother will go to in order to protect her child.
DESTINY JACKSON: It seems like in the past two years we’ve had a slew of movies that deal with the complexities of the mother-child relationship, like The Lost Daughter, Parallel Mothers, and Everything Everywhere All at Once. Why is Resurrection, another story about motherhood, one that you needed to urgently tell right now?
ANDREW SEMANS: I first wrote the first draft of this script seven years ago. So, it was written in somewhat of a different climate. We are now in a time where there are a lot of stories about mothers in duress or mothers who are experiencing very complicated or negative feelings about motherhood. There are also a huge amount of trauma stories out there these days. The narrative landscape is hypersaturated with trauma stories. When the script was originally written, it was not the case, so I hope it doesn’t feel like I’m jumping on a bandwagon.
But what made me want to tell the story initially was sometimes when I’m looking for material to write something that might spark interest in myself, I will do a basic exercise where I just say to myself, “What scares me, what frightens me, what’s something that really in an elemental and fundamental way terrifies me?” And often the answers to those questions lead to ideas for stories or ideas for characters. In this case, at that time in my life when I started working on this, I began to think about fears around parenthood, specifically fears around the inability to keep your child safe, inability to fully protect your child, the fear that something might happen to your child and you will feel responsible, you will feel guilty, and how this was a fear, even though I did not have children at that time — but I’m about to have a child later in the summer. But, at that time, those fears felt very real to me, very palpable to me, and so that was the first spark of the story.
What films and ideas inspired the drive behind the intense choices Margaret (Rebecca Hall) makes to protect herself and her daughter from David?
When I began to think about writing a parent character, that led me to think about parent vigilante movies. I thought of things like Taken or Death Wish. These films are about basic parental fears of being unable to keep your children safe, and then, of course, these grandiose fantasies of becoming transformed into an unstoppable avenger on behalf of your imperiled child. I became interested in that, and I thought, “Oh, is there a way to tell a parental-vigilante story that is interesting to me that feels different, or engages these themes in an original way, or something that felt unique to myself?” Then I started building the character initially around ideas or certain characteristics of my own mother, whose name is Margaret, and it went from there.
In Resurrection, you did a great job of writing women who don’t fall into tropes. Margaret has a healthy hookup arrangement with one of her co-workers, and the teenage daughter isn’t complaining about boys — she’s playing Elder Scrolls. How did you go about writing them?
There were certain characteristics that my mother had that informed the character of Margaret, but the character is not based on my mother. They don’t communicate or behave in the same way, although there’s a certain kind of Catholic masochism that my mother has been known to demonstrate that informed the character in the movie. Any time I write a character, I try to make them feel as specific as possible, and I just try to make their choices and their words feel psychologically consistent and psychologically truthful. I just tried to write it to my own satisfaction and hoped it felt real to other people.
Resurrection has a chilling eight-minute monologue by Rebecca Hall, bathed in darkness and delivering harrowing exposition. Why choose that monologue to explain the plot instead of having things unfold as the movie happens? Was it always planned this way?
It was always planned that way. I love monologues. I love going to the theater and listening to all those long monologues. It’s something that you don’t see in movies that much. The monologue was inspired by the movie Little Murders, to a certain extent. It’s a very weird, very great film from the ‘70s that’s based on a Jules Feiffer play. It stars Elliott Gould and it’s directed by Alan Arkin and shot by Gordon Willis. It’s a movie that I really love. In the movie, Elliott Gould plays this very unusual, very enigmatic figure, and in the middle of the movie, he delivers this long monologue where you get this very vital backstory for him. It’s this pivot right in the middle of the movie where everything changes, and I always loved that.
I always loved that structurally and I loved the monologue and performance. I just kind of ripped that off, and I thought, “I’m going to just put all this backstory… Everything that has been withheld or just alluded to up till now, I’m just going to lay it all out, and the character’s just going to say it.” It’s a very risky thing to do because it’s a lot of text, it’s a lot of screen time, and if that doesn’t work, the movie is dead in the water and nobody’s going to be interested in going along with the story. So it was something that we were all nervous about, or at least I was initially nervous about it. But then after working with Rebecca [Hall] for a couple days I was just like, “She’s going to nail it. She’s so amazing. She’s going to nail it.”
Yes, let’s talk about working with Rebecca Hall on these emotional beats in the film. She has such expressive eyes that just really pull you into the sadness and horror…
Working with Rebecca [Hall] on the monologue or anything else was just extraordinarily easy and wonderful. She’s just a dream to work with. She’s incredibly prepared. She’s incredibly dedicated. She’s incredibly kind to everyone. She’s a total professional, and she just shows up with the performance ready. She’s so smart. It always feels like she’s one step ahead of everybody. Working with her, I had to do very, very little. You’d just turn the camera on. She knew what to do, and she would do it, and she would always deliver right off the bat. We did that monologue. We did two takes. And for both of them, she didn’t drop a line. I would love to take a lot of credit for that performance, but I can really take none. I wrote the text, but that was all her.
These camera angles and lighting choices to bathe the actors in shadow almost kind of tell a story on their own. Can you explain how some of these creative decisions helped enhance the narrative of Resurrection?
We wanted to present the visuals of the movie very simply. We wanted to shoot it in a fairly restrained, stripped-down style that felt naturalistic, grounded, and not hyper-stylized. The trick was, once we decided that we didn’t want to be particularly expressive or particularly show-offy with the camera, we thought, “How do we reinforce these dramatic moments, and how do we reinforce the character’s psychology in a way that feels subtle, insidious, and doesn’t hit the audience over the head?”
That was always the trick in every scene: to try and make it feel realistic and feel almost plain, but at the same time imbue it with the sense of menace or dread or the sense of paranoia or whatever we happened to be going for in the scene, to do so in a sly, subtle way, and not resort to a lot of trickery or things that felt too on the nose or too exaggerated. Because the movie has this very outlandish premise that is quite extreme and strange and uncanny, I wanted the world that the movie took place in to feel almost mundane, to not feel strange or dark or dreamlike or feel like just a horror movie. I feel like the movie is a handsome movie. I really love the way it was shot. Wyatt Garfield, the DP, is brilliant. And I wanted this strangeness to happen in a world that felt extremely familiar and accessible and not exceptional in any way. I liked the contrast between what the characters were thinking and feeling and doing and the world that they were existing in, which does feel quite mundane.
Was it harder for you to write or direct Resurrection? What did you find was the biggest challenge for you, since you juggled both?
For me, it’s always easier to write than direct, just because I have more experience as a writer than as a director. But hopefully, in the coming years, I’ll balance that out. I think, on the page, the hardest thing to do was to try not to tip over into something completely ludicrous because there is this outlandish idea that animates much of the narrative. It was hard trying to make this
feel psychologically and emotionally truthful and consistent while also maintaining this premise that was pretty crazy, and trying to maintain that balance was just a constant challenge throughout the years that the script was developing.
Directorially speaking, the biggest challenge was just practical challenges that anybody faces on a low-budget movie. We had four weeks to shoot the film, so trying to manage time and working within limited means while trying to get it all done at a level that we were satisfied with was extremely challenging. Thank God the cast was as wonderful and experienced as they were that we were able to get the movie made.
They say art is a reflection of someone’s psyche during a certain period of their life, and this movie is quite different from your first feature, Nancy, Please. It’s been 10 years since that film, so what did you learn about yourself and the filmmaking process leading up to Resurrection?
I feel like, at least initially, when you’re working on something, trust your unconscious mind. Let it take you places and don’t censor yourself as you’re writing. Now, of course, you go back and you do many, many drafts and you hone and you change, but one thing I keep thinking about is how I can move forward and write other scripts and develop other projects. Let yourself be very free in those initial phases and then let the other parts of your brain come in and manage what you’ve written and shape it and make it more coherent. If your work comes from a very raw place initially, you can hang onto that. It can still feel untamed as it goes through this long, long process of trying to get to the screen. Hopefully, that’s what happened here, and hopefully, that’s a good lesson to take away from it.
Resurrection, from IFC Films, is now in theaters and will be available on-demand August 5th. Shudder will be the exclusive streaming home in November.
Main Image: Rebecca Hall and Resurrection writer-director Andrew Semans
This story about Andrew Semans’ Resurrection originally appeared in the summer 2022 issue of MovieMaker Magazine.