Though it is an admirably ambitious and inspired work, inconsistent execution, unbalanced storytelling, and unconvincing performances hold it back.
Typically, horror films will go to any and all lengths to terrify and disgust us, shamelessly abandoning taste, intelligence, dignity, and finesse. They are relentless in chasing their ultimate goal: to prey on our primal fears and compel us to gleefully squirm in our seats. The horror genre is unique in that if its films contain poor acting, sloppy writing, or generally low production values and polish, these flaws are generally accepted and even embraced as long as the film provides the deliciously repulsive experience horror enthusiasts crave.
However, some filmmakers aspire to take a more cerebral approach to the genre, denouncing the notion that horror films and intellectual sophistication are mutually exclusive. Resolution, co-directed by Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson, is a genre-bending, provocative, and inventive attempt at reinvigorating and subverting the horror genre, which in recent years has been inundated with schlocky, endlessly iterative cash-grabs. Though it is an admirably ambitious and inspired work, inconsistent execution, unbalanced storytelling, and unconvincing performances hold Resolution back from being the horror film revelation it should to be.
The film opens with Michael (Peter Cilella) receiving a distressing email containing unsettling footage of his old friend Chris (Vinny Curran), heavily drugged up, showing signs of self-destruction. Following a map included in the email, Michael finds Chris squatting in a run-down, empty house in the middle of an Indian reservation. He handcuffs Chris to a pipe in the house, imposing a week-long intervention in a last-ditch effort to save his despondent friend from the black hole that is addiction.
In between helping Chris to confront and wrestle with his inner-demons, Michael explores the surrounding area and encounters a bizarre assortment of eccentrics: cult members, violent drug dealers, the threatening Native-American owners of the house he and Chris are squatting in, a mentally ill girl who watches him in his sleep, and a French researcher who shares a darkly cryptic message. Michael also slowly begins to uncover a mysterious story, told in segments in the form of VHS tapes, film reels, cave paintings, and vinyl records he finds littered throughout the reservation. He then discovers that the subjects of the eerie tale being told through these old, dusty artifacts are—impossibly—he and Chris.
The unorthodox themes and ideas in the film are presented with puzzling ambiguity, and repeated viewings are helpful in uncovering the film’s true message. The way Moorehead and Benson push and bend the horror movie format is commendably fresh and unconventional, and they create a few moments that are truly resonant (and sometimes playfully meta.) However, though the approach to the storytelling is inventive and occasionally fascinating, the story dangerously walks the line between ambiguity and inarticulation, unfortunately falling more on the side of the latter. There are key moments where weighty, innovative ideas are supposed to be represented on-screen, but these moments lose their potency due to uninteresting camerawork, unconvincing acting, and amateurish directorial choices.
For example, throughout the film, Chris is meant to be battling a fatal addiction that is ravaging his body. He vocalizes his pain incessantly, but what we are shown does not convey the agony he speaks of. At worst, he appears as if he’s fighting off a killer hangover, not life-threatening withdrawals. The camera doesn’t offer much help to Curran’s performance, as Moorehead and Benson capture him from dull, rudimentary angles too distant for us to register much of his emotion or make any real connection with his situation. What’s worse, the set design is bland and provides nothing interesting for the camera to capture.
The film’s most glaring issue lies in the ineffective portrayal of the relationship between Michael and Chris. We spend the majority of the film listening to their verbal tug-of-war, and the success of the story hinges heavily on their interactions. Unfortunately, Curran and Cilella’s performances are not strong enough to carry the weight of the thematically dense screenplay. Cilella lacks conviction and confidence, and has a tendency to mumble his words, barely making shapes with his mouth. Conversely, Curran puts on an overly-obnoxious performance that is meant to be endearing and humorous, but comes off as incredibly grating. His delivery of the over-fluffed dialog is messy, and he curses with the frequency of a 13-year-old who has just discovered the f-word. “F*ckin Mike! How the f*ck are you man? Oh god, f*ckin fantastic man f*ckin living the dream man. Isn’t this f*ckin the tits?” It’s understandable that a junkie would curse this frequently, but the abuse of the f-word unfortunately reaches the point where the dialog in between the curses virtually disappears. Cilella and Curran’s best scene comes at the film’s finale, in which they share a reflective, sentimental conversation. Cilella seems to loosen up a bit and act more naturalistically, Curran takes a break from his f-bomb rampage and speaks slowly and deliberately, and they react well off of one another. Sadly, this scene only serves to illuminate the weakness of their previous conversations.
Though Resolution does provide a few scary moments and some thought-provoking imagery (a scene involving a laptop is stellar), it frequently stumbles on its numerous missteps in execution. It aims to be a knockout, but hits more like a glancing blow. However, I cannot overstate how laudable Moorehead and Benson’s ambition is, as ambition is the characteristic that most conventional horror films lack. Though Resolution has some significant flaws, it’s important that films like it get made and that filmmakers like Moorehead and Benson continue to aim high and take chances.