This past weekend, writer/director Andrew Semans celebrated the world premiere of his sophomore feature film, Resurrection, during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Starring Rebecca Hall, Resurrection follows a successful woman named Margaret who seemingly has a handle on all aspects of her life, but when a figure from her past (played by Tim Roth) suddenly appears out of nowhere, both Margaret’s life and sanity quickly unravel as she contends with the hold he still has over her after all these years.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Semans about Resurrection, and during our conversation, the writer/director chatted about the inspiration behind his wildly provocative story, collaborating with both Rebecca Hall and Tim Roth, and more.
So great to speak with you, Andrew, and I'm really glad I had a chance to see this. Like pretty much everybody else who's ever seen her in anything, I'm a huge Rebecca Hall fan and I loved this. I had no idea where it was going. I had no idea that you were going to go where you went. And just as somebody who watches hundreds of movies every year, I'm always happy when a movie isn't afraid to be audacious and just push things. And I think you guys did that exceedingly well. So first and foremost, congrats.
Andrew Semans: Thank you very much.
You're very welcome. I would love to hear about how this project came together, especially this story, because we've seen tons of psychological thrillers come along, but nothing quite feels like Resurrection whatsoever.
Andrew Semans: I would say it came out of me thinking about certain fears I have around parenthood. I'm not a parent, but I was thinking about fears around keeping your children safe, fears around the vulnerability of children, fears that as a parent, someone might fail in their fundamental duty to prevent their child from being hurt, from being victimized. And that kind of fear, despite not being a parent, really resonated with me. They felt very present and palpable to me and so I decided to pursue it in thinking of a story and see where it went. And in thinking about those fears, I couldn't help but start thinking about the parental vigilante subgenre, the subgenre that really plays on these fears, trades on these fears, and also provides this fantasy antidote where the parent becomes a kind of indestructible superhero when their child is imperiled. So I thought about who is the parent and what is the threat? And I was trying to work that out.
As I was trying to develop this idea, a friend of mine became involved in a very unhealthy relationship with a very toxic, manipulative, controlling person. I was witnessing that firsthand and doing my best to understand that relationship and doing my best at trying to help her in any way I could. I became very fascinated by, and very terrified by, the techniques that these sorts of people use to manipulate and control and gaslight their victims, as well as the techniques they use to form these incredible emotional bonds with their victims. So that began to inform the story in a big way, and it gradually kind of came out of all of that.
In terms of how people are controlling towards their victims, I'm somebody who's been a huge fan of Tim Roth for years, and I was so unnerved by him in this film, where I was actually very angry at him. The way that he would say things that were so underhandedly manipulative, but he did it with a smile on his face. He is just so good in Resurrection.
Andrew Semans: Well, the way Tim approached the role, which I thought was great, is that he really didn't want to telegraph the character's evil or sadism. He didn't want to be someone who is openly malevolent. He felt that these kinds of controlling, manipulative, sociopathic people don't want to announce that they are sadistic sociopaths. They present themselves as normally as possible. They want to seem benign. They want to be charming. They want to seem like they're not a threat to anybody. And so he wanted to perform the character in that way. He wanted to play him as a harmless, nice guy, someone who is extraordinarily dangerous to this one person, Margaret, played by Rebecca Hall, but would seem utterly harmless to anyone else.
I thought that was a very exciting approach, and that's what he was going for. Surely there are flashes of violence or flashes of anger, but they're just peppered in. He was trying to play the character as a man who sees himself as the romantic lead in his own story. He's someone who thinks he's doing the right thing—someone who is trying to write a wrong, which is the ending of this great love. So, I hope that provides some sort of context for his performance.
Rebecca is just a force of nature, pretty much in anything she does, and what I love about her performance in Resurrection is her total commitment. As I mentioned, there are some very bold aspects to this story that I think with a lesser performance, it might have been harder to buy into those elements. And I don't mean that against the story or anything, but I feel like her total devotion to this is why we're so drawn into it and we're so invested in it and are willing to kind of go down this rabbit hole with her. How was it collaborating with her?
Andrew Semans: Well, I agree with you 100 percent that this movie has a fairly outlandish premise. There are some challenging things to accept over the course of the movie, and with a lesser actor, it might just seem completely preposterous or very boring. So I knew early on for this to work, I needed the greatest actor in the world to play this part. And quite remarkably, I got the greatest actor in the world to play the part, which I'm pinching myself to this day. I really think that there is no one better than Rebecca Hall. There may be actors out there at her level, but you can't be better than Rebecca. So it was just such an incredible gift to the project that someone so talented and also has such innate intelligence, strength, dignity, and ferocity came on board to ground and legitimize this crazy story and give it a real gravity and emotional heft.
And in terms of working with Rebecca, it was extraordinarily easy. She is completely prepared and completely committed, so she requires so little. At least from me, she required so little. She knew the script so well. She knew the character so well. She was able to relate to the character in such a direct way that I felt at times I was completely superfluous. She could come in and just do it and nail it from the first take on every single day. Most of the time, I just stood back and admired her performance, so it was a dream collaboration. She just made it so easy.
I'm a really big believer in that whenever you do anything creative, you put something of yourself into that project, whether you're writing, directing, whatever it is that you're doing. But I also feel like you take a piece of it with you when you're done. And I'm just curious, looking at your experiences working on Resurrection, what was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
Andrew Semans: Wow, that's a tough question. Nobody's asked me that question. But I would say my biggest takeaway is just from a purely directorial standpoint, and I know this is obvious, but it's so important to cast your movie well. Make the right choices when you pick your actors. It makes all the difference. And if you can get the right people in your movie, in front of the camera, you're almost there. But I feel like that is not in the spirit of your question. I feel like your question is something else. Were you looking for something more personal?
Here's the thing. You may not even be able to process that yet, just because you're still living in the moment of this project. But I think what you said works.
Andrew Semans: You know, another answer to that might be that I need to just trust my unconscious mind. That if I feel powerfully about something that it must be done, or I want to communicate it, to follow through on that and not second guess myself. Again, that may sound obvious, but it is a hard lesson for any filmmaker to learn.
Go HERE to catch up on all of our coverage of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival!
[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of Wyatt Garfield / Sundance Institute.]