Rebecca Hall Stares Down Terror in 'Resurrection'
The actor speaks with Thrillist about her chillingly intense work in the new horror film.
After finishing her acclaimed directorial debut Passing, Rebecca Hall had no desire to take it easy. "Counterintuitively, I didn't really feel the need to go light—I felt the opposite," she explains over Zoom. "I sort of felt if I'm going to do the acting thing, I want it to be as fulfilling as this experience I just had and where I'm at right now in my head. It's going to need to be the extreme-sports version of acting."
Enter Resurrection, one of the great surprises from this year's Sundance Film Festival. Now in theaters and coming to VOD on August 5, the movie features Hall in a thrillingly intense performance as Margaret, a single mother whose existence is upended when a man (Tim Roth) from her past starts popping up—first at a distance, then steadily drawing closer. His slow creep is analogous to how director Andrew Semans' film works its demented magic on the audience. An eerie stillness eventually turns into an explosion of rage and violence that is both terrifying and almost guffaw-inducingly ridiculous. The script made her think it could either be brilliant or "wretched." She took the risk. "It made me think of Greek mythology, like ancient forms of storytelling and they're all dealing with basic human emotions, sadness, love, death, anger, whatever it is," Hall says. "But in order to hold them, they're using these sometimes outlandishly large devices almost within the narrative and creating mythology."
In her acting work, Hall has been on a run of performances in genre movies that cement her as one of the best portrayers of rage and grief. Last year, she appeared in The Night House, a similarly slow-burning horror thriller that matched jump scares with sorrow. Though she enjoys goofier jobs, too—she's headed to film the Godzilla vs. Kong sequel as we talk—these scary chamber pieces are where she finds the most challenge.
The centerpiece of Resurrection is a seven-minute monologue in which Hall describes to a shocked underling at her biotech office just what happened between her and this mysterious visitor. (Warning: Spoilers follow.) Semans never cuts away from her face as she methodically explains that she entered a relationship with David when she was just a teenager, and his affection quickly turned into abuse when he would request "kindnesses" from her—tasks that were essentially endurance tests. She eventually became pregnant with his baby, but when she left the boy, Ben, alone one day with David she came home to find him gone, only two fingers remaining. David claimed that Ben was alive, just in his belly.
Reading the speech for the first time, she knew she could put herself in Semans' hands. "I was like, wait a minute, you're going to do the big reveal in this way, with her telling her intern, when there's an imbalance of power and it's kind of abusive to pour this information on her, which is brilliant. And you're just going to play it as a monologue? And you never cut away to a flashback or anything that everyone chooses to do?" she remembers. "I was like, 'Oh, I trust you.'"
When they met up, Semans then told her he was planning not to cut away from her face, which would be illuminated by the glow of a computer screen but otherwise shrouded in darkness. According to Hall, she completed the scene in half an hour, doing only two takes.
Hall defers when I ask about how she prepared for shooting the scene; she says she didn't know how she was going to say the words. However, she did feel the need to keep herself physically fit for filming. "I really made sure that I was physically in shape and running a lot and doing a lot of exercise and getting physically strong because it just felt important to me that she would be rigorous about that kind of thing," she says. "Also, practically speaking, I needed to be physically strong so that I would have the stamina to get through the bloody thing." She watched the rash of documentaries about the sex cult NXIVM that were airing around that time—not because the production was filming in Albany, near where Keith Raniere ran his racket, but because she felt like Margaret had something in common with cult survivors, having extracted herself from an overbearing personality.
Hall is consistently drawn to stories where one person is at risk of losing her identity to another. It's there in Resurrection, Passing, The Night House, and even if you go as far back to her breakout role from 2008, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Watching her as an audience member, it's easy to lose yourself to her. You simply cannot look away.
"There's something really inherently fascinating about people who are rational, intelligent, who become enthralled to these narcissistic personalities," she says. "That is the thing that I am definitely fascinated by and reflected in a lot of my work. A lot of my work is kind of subtly about narcissism in different ways."