Rebecca Hall is an actress whose work you have certainly seen before. But you may not recognize her for what she is: one of the most daring, versatile, and indeed one of the best actresses working today. Her performance in Resurrection might be the one that finally earns her such consideration.
The head-spinning new psychological thriller from writer/director Andrew Semans, Resurrection casts Hall as Margaret, a successful woman in biotech and also a single mother preparing to send her daughter to college. But her life is knocked off-balance after a chance encounter with a former lover, David (played by Tim Roth), stirring up memories of a traumatic and abusive past. What follows is either a bizarre, fraught reckoning with the past or a descent into madness. Or, in Hall’s brilliant hands, it’s both.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Hall’s strongest work is in smaller films, and Resurrection is no different, occupying a niche of psychological thriller and dream-logic horror. But Hall is as assured a performer in the type of straightforward Hollywood fare for which she is most familiar to wide audiences.
Hall made her film debut in 2006 in the British comedy Starter for 10, but would have a much larger launching pad later that year in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. As the tortured wife of Christian Bale’s magician who tragically susses out the big twist before the audience does (placing her in the club of Christopher Nolan’s Aggrieved or Deceased Wives), it would be the first of several times that Hall would deliver a strong performance that would nonetheless be underacknowledged opposite her more famous costars.
She’s the Vicky of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but was omitted from the film’s poster; The New York Times hailed that her performance evoked Katherine Hepburn and she received a Golden Globe nomination (to date, her only solo acting recognition from an industry awards body) when many expected her costar Scarlet Johansson to represent the film. In a review of The Town, in which she plays the romantic counterpart to Ben Affleck’s lead, The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan wrote, “Hall is a perfect chameleon of an actress whose extraordinary range of parts… illustrates that she is capable of becoming anybody anywhere.”
Despite amassing increasing critical support, wider recognition eluded her despite the praise. She would continue to star in Best Picture nominees, Marvel films, large ensembles, and just about every genre imaginable, and in each role, Hall found a core of raw emotional truth that transcends the limited nature of what she is sometimes tasked to do.
Perhaps Hall’s finest (and sadly, underseen) performance is in Angela Robinson’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. The film follows the Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth as they navigate a polyamorous relationship with their assistant and the conservative social mores of the early 20th century.
As Elizabeth, Hall captivates with a bracing wit, but also for the vulnerability she brings to Elizabeth’s inability to contain her feelings. Here, Hall mines tension from trepidation, heartache from a character pushing up against her natural defenses. It’s a performance wholly different from the one she gives in the likes of darker material, like Antonio Campos’ Christine—another stunner performance for Hall as the real-life Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter who fatally shot herself on live television.
Resurrection, on the other hand, captures Hall barefoot in the street, drenched in sweat, and stark raving mad. Make no mistake, Hall is giving a big performance in a movie as likely to captivate some viewers as it is to deeply frustrate others. Everything and nothing is spelled out in the film, thrillingly placing us in Margaret’s position of deep paranoia and fear.
In a foreboding, unsettlingly monologue shot in one seven-minute unbroken take, Hall’s Margaret details the horrific backstory with David and the impact it has had on her psyche since, a story that seems too twisted to be entirely true—if not for the assured weight behind Hall’s eyes. David, she’s positive, has returned with unfinished business. And that’s when things really start to get weird.
Though the film presents what Margaret is experiencing plainly and without flare, we still can’t help but question what she is telling us and what has actually happened to her. Does David’s return pose an actual threat or not? Has David really returned or is he a figment of her imagination? Is her fear for her college-bound daughter simply triggering an episode of panic and delusion rooted in her own past trauma?
Hall is beguiling in the film. She crafts a performance where any of these narratives could be conceivably true, a kind of masterful balancing act of paranoia and PTSD that serves the film’s attempt to be both thriller and allegory. While the film could be interpreted as a more abstract, less didactic Me-Too story than we have seen on screen in recent years, Hall’s performance also bravely avoids simplistic interpretations.
To watch her performance in Resurrection is to spend nearly two hours in that feeling you get at the top of the first hill of a roller-coaster, with Hall keeping you bracing for what is to come. She gives palpable reality to the unexplainable fears and secrets vibrating in Margaret’s brain, once again inviting the audience into one of her character’s deeply internal battles with visceral immediacy.
As Resurrection takes leap after bizarre leap, it’s Hall that grounds it, even when tasked with Margaret’s grimmer and grimmer state of being. While the film’s final act will no doubt confound some viewers with its bloody and opaque audacity (Resurrection is nothing if not ripe for debate and midnight viewing), it leaves no doubt that it delivers Hall the top of her game.
It also can’t be ignored that Hall’s ambitions only continue to expand, notably with a burgeoning directing career. In her impressive and psychologically florid directorial debut Passing, Hall the director delivered a film as precise in its tension and detail as her performances, showing that she is someone who will continue to surprise us with new facets of her creative ability.
But in Resurrection lies Hall’s most boldly surprising act yet, a go-for-broke emotional commitment to her character’s splintering psychosis. And this time audiences had better pay attention—even if they have to watch between their fingers.