RESOLUTION. Captivating and demanding horror movie
It’s easier for me to write about older films because I can clearly see their influence on future cinema, in both the genre and beyond. It’s important to understand their place in history and why they are still worth remembering. Not to mention that what used to be scary may not have the same effect today and could even be boring or humorous. With the increasing use of terms like “formulaic,” “borrowed,” and “remake” when discussing new horror films, I decided to showcase a relatively recent film, made merely decade ago, that struck me with its originality.
Resolution begins with a video in which a bearded man takes drugs, walks around with a shotgun in the wilderness, and shoots bottles and into the air. He seems like a very unhappy person. The video is received by Michael (Peter Cilella), the last friend of Chris (Vinny Curran). After watching the video, Michael travels to his hometown to save his friend from impending doom. When he arrives, he discovers that Chris lives in a dilapidated building near the woods and doesn’t want any help, especially rehabilitation. In an attempt to help, Michael uses a stun gun on Chris and restrains him to a pipe in the house. He proposes that if Chris still wants to stay in his drug-induced stupor after a week of this treatment, he will leave him alone and respect his friend’s choice. While Chris is trapped in his house, Michael finds increasingly bizarre things outside.
Resolution is not just another horror movie about a cabin in the woods where evil forces or psychopathic killers attack. The threat here is rather undefined and initially, it may seem like the main characters should be more afraid of local drug dealers or the Native American people because Chris is squatting on their land (the abandoned building is in the reservation territory). The former are foolish, and the latter are accommodating, but both groups impose conditions that, if not met, could result in mortal danger. While this risk is known to the two friends, the findings that Michael uncovers suggest a less obvious but much more sinister form of threat. It revolves around seemingly random photographs, film reels, slides, books, and everything that is a carrier of a narrative, a story. What’s more, these stories end tragically for their characters, and it appears that Chris and Michael have found themselves in such a narrative.
I agree that in the presented summary, there are certain similarities with other horror films created during the same period. Involuntary rehabilitation in a cabin in the woods is reminiscent of the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. The gruesome videos that could be the work of a killer harken back to Sinister (2012), and the attempt to analyze the actions of filmic horror connects Resolution to The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Especially the latter title serves as a good reference point for the central theme around which Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s debut is constructed, although that film, about five students playing roles typical of slasher movie protagonists, aimed for a more playful and direct interaction with the audience. In contrast, Resolution doesn’t spoon-feed its viewers and challenges them to figure out what they are really watching.
This isn’t limited to the film’s plot, although for a long time, it’s hard to determine where to find the horror aspect of this story. The next two paragraphs touch on spoiler territory, so if someone doesn’t want to have their viewing experience spoiled by knowing too much, they should skip them.
The title of the film refers to both resolution (as in conclusion) and resolution in terms of image quality, which is directly related to the picture. This is the first clue to watch the film attentively, paying attention to not only the plot but also its execution. Camera tremors, abrupt, sloppy editing, or surprising use of sound can be something more than the mistakes of novice directors, especially when not only the audience but also the characters notice them. The greatest success of Resolution is that it almost imperceptibly blurs the line between the work itself and the experience of watching it. Perhaps this is why one of the film’s themes revolves around the perception of a work and the awareness of participation in it. The film’s form contains traces of a certain mystery (manipulation?), both for the main characters and the audience. The characters sense that they may be under observation, while the audience realizes that they are the observers. Metahorror is born here, almost alongside the story being watched, providing justification for Michael’s discoveries – every narrative requires its characters, but also its audience.
And what about the creators? In a surreal, almost Kafkaesque finale, when Michael and Chris escape their fate, the directors effectively wash their hands of their characters’ fate. Because if the film’s content is its form, then the one responsible for the entirety must also be a part of the plot in a sense. In their The Endless, Benson and Moorhead went even further by taking on the main roles, giving their characters their own names, and not coincidentally placing characters from Resolution in the storyline.
This is a thought-out play – importantly, never losing sight of their characters and their complex relationships – providing a lot of satisfaction for those who enjoy puzzling over what they are watching. However, those seeking fear in horror derived from jump scares and straightforward visuals will likely give up long before the end, or finish the film in considerable frustration. The creators suggest more than they explain, implying that the entire reality in which the main characters find themselves is somehow tainted by narrativity. I know that in the context of film as a narrative-driven medium, this might sound a bit like stating the obvious, but watching specific episodes in Resolution, you get the sense that, on the one hand, they are entirely random, and on the other, that other stories have somehow penetrated the story of the two friends. The people they encounter, mainly through Michael – whether it’s members of the strange cult, a patient from a local sanitarium, or a French researcher fascinated by local folklore – all seem to be part of a larger whole, each with their own stories to tell. The existence of The Endless demonstrates that this directing duo wants to explore their world, searching for fantastic horror not so much at the intersection of content and form, but by equating the two.
If I were to compare Benson and Moorhead’s debut to another film, it would be the sci-fi wonder Primer (2004), directed by Shane Carruth. Both films are similarly unassuming yet demanding, forcing the viewer into a constant state of doubt about the presented world. However, while Carruth also experiments with form in his subsequent film Upstream Color (2013), the creators of Resolution and The Endless have demonstrated that they can also work in a more conventional manner. In Spring (2014), a young American travels to Italy, where he meets and falls in love with a girl harboring a monstrous secret. The duo’s second film proves once again that they seek horror in seemingly remote places and situations, combining a charming romance with Lovecraftian motifs. In this case, the form and content do not require constant intellectual effort from the viewer.
Spring shows that Benson and Moorhead have the potential to make their mark in more mainstream horror if they choose to do so. However, for now, they seem to prefer realizing their creative visions in independent productions (both are also responsible for production and editing, with the screenplay always authored by the former and the cinematography by the latter). As long as the result is films like Resolution, I have no objections.