The golden age of horror: Resolution (2012)

Rob: What the hell is going on? That question ran through my mind countless times while watching Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s 2012 experiment in indie meta-horror. What the hell is going on? It’s not necessarily a bad question to be asking as an audience member trying to piece things together and make sense of what’s going on. It’s fun being in the dark, especially when you’re sharing that experience with the main characters who also don’t understand the strange events happening all around. But how long can you sustain that? There’s a limit to patience and a thin line between intrigue and frustration. For better or worse, Resolution constantly had me walking that line, bouncing back and forth between intrigue and frustration. It never quite answered that question in a satisfying way. What the hell is going on?

After the jump, no, seriously. What the hell is going on?

Rob: Well, let’s start with what we do know. Married graphic designer Mike gets a video email which shows footage of his best friend Chris smoking excessive amounts of meth off in the woods somewhere. He shoots guns, climbs trees, sobs, and smokes more meth. The email includes a map to Chris’s location so Mike sets off on one last-ditch effort to convince his lifelong friend to finally get clean and go to rehab.

Mike finds Chris sitting wasted on the porch of a half-finished cabin in the woods shooting at birds. Chris invites him in for a drink and pretty soon Mike springs his trap. He tasers his junkie friend and handcuffs him to a pipe. He’ll have seven days to detox on a dirty mattress with Mike playing caretaker, bringing him Gatorade, toilet buckets, even a little ointment to soothe his chafing handcuffed wrist. Hey, that’s what friends are for.

I found this central plotline to be pretty compelling and the actors are both engaging, especially Vinny Curran as Chris with his drug-addled mood swings between manic rage and quiet desperation. Sometimes the performances have that typical mumblecore feeling where you can’t tell if it’s improv, not enough rehearsal time, or just half-assed. Often you can spot these moments by the number of f-bombs that start going off in the dialogue. But overall, I enjoyed watching these two actors.

Chris: Agreed on that, although Curran is the weaker of the two. He’s essentially Galifianakising his way through this film.

Rob: This initial setup complete, the movie then starts getting on with the business of what it actually wants to do. And that is, mess with you. While out walking, Mike encounters a church group trio of ultra-chill bros sipping tea down by the river and preaching about the celestial messiah. Next, two of Chris’s violent druggie friends show up at the door unannounced. Before they even depart, up comes a trio of local Native Americans warning them that they’re on tribal land. With a lot of dead people buried in it. Then Mike discovers a bunch of dusty old records in a stone chimney and (convenient!) a nearby shack with a record player. And a film projector. With a creepy film in it.

Horror movie fans, does any of this sound familiar? Oh, all of it does? Welcome to a feature-length version of that early scene in Cabin in the Woods where they explore a variety of different cursed objects in the cellar. At least that movie had the decency to pick one and go with it. Because you can’t have a story if you don’t make some choices, right? You can’t play that kind of game for the entire running time of the movie or people will constantly be asking, “What the hell is going on?”

Chris: You know what I wish? I wish that there was some way to not tell folks that this is a horror movie before they watch it. I like how when Resolution starts out it feels like it’ll be just a standard indie movie. The setup is as low key as you can get for one that involves one friend tasering and binding up another. The feel is so unhurried here that I think the first time I watched this, I actually did forget this movie was going to veer into a horror thing.

That’s actually The first part of why I think it worked for me, and maybe why I can’t quibble much if it doesn’t hang together for anyone else. Benson and Moorhead introduce just little bits of weirdness in at a time. First the God people. Then the drug buddies and then the local tribesmen. A face in the window. Chris seems to think nothing of all this. They’re all a day in the life here in the cabin. Mike tries to slough it off.

Rob: I thought there was a problematic disconnect between the junkie rehab plotline and the meta-horror business. These two plot strands rarely gelled for me. But this moment you describe was one place where it does click together nicely. Of course none of this creepy weirdness has been bothering Chris because he’s always strung out on meth! He’s not a reliable barometer of reality.

Chris: I think the movie hinges on how much you buy into what Peter Cilella is selling as Michael. He’s initially surprised by these encounters, but Chris convinces him that there’s nothing crazy about any of it. The turning point feels like that face in the window. Chris tells Mike that it’s nothing and easily explains the person away. Mike buys that, and then from there on out, I was pretty much up for anything to happen going forward. I believed that Mike believed that explanation, and that by him accepting it we’d passed some key point in this narrative that was going to allow for crazy stuff to happen.

Rob: That girl’s face leering in the window was the only moment in the movie that frightened me but that was just a minor jolt. As the movie went along, I felt increasingly disappointed that I wasn’t getting any other visceral scares. I’m sure that would’ve swayed me toward liking this thing a lot more than I did. But as Mike keeps discovering all these strange scenes playing out on all sorts of different media (I was hoping for an 8-track tape sighting but no luck) I just didn’t feel a satisfying build up. I didn’t feel the script was doing enough with its premise. It’s all just a series of possible things happening, like different drafts of the script forcing their way in on the characters. Conceptually, the movie is fascinating. But I’m hungry for something more satisfying out of the viewing experience, which by the logic of the film makes me something of a monster. Which, again, is pretty fascinating. It’s a unique movie experience, that’s for sure. Did you find it scary, Chris?

Chris: Scary? No, probably not too much. I found the creepy evidence from the future fairly interesting and that hooked me pretty well. Definitely more creepy and weird than scary. Again, I think it comes back to me kind of vibing into Cilella’s performance here. He’s a skeptic and doubter, but not demonstrative. When Chris starts telling him that OF COURSE weird stuff and weird people hang out around this property, Mike gives a wry, condescending smile. “So you’ve got government AND devil worshipper problems.” For some reason that understated cynicism made me willing to buy stuff that would otherwise be total nonsense. (Seriously…a taser. And handcuffs. And a hidden room under the house. With stuff grabbed from a hidden house in the woods. And a mental health facility up the road. And there’s conveniently analog but still-working vintage a/v equipment.) Seeing you spell it out, Rob, it’s all so preposterous. Maybe Cilella’s performance deserves even more praise from me for getting me to look past all that?


Chris: There’s perhaps another reason I think I accepted all this, and I now prepare to be hooted at by wiser folks than I. A lot of the junk that fills in the narrative here–the phonograph records and film footage–are all storytelling tools I’m used to from playing video games. Seriously, this is a movie that feels like it borrows from games like Bioshock or Fatal Frame or Alan Wake. In those games, you find collectible recordings and films and instantly play them back and it informs the player’s narrative. It feels like our co-directors have tried to do exactly that with a movie here, even when the footage became dark “this is your fate” creepiness.. I just sort of went along with that in the games described, and that’s likely why I gave so much leeway to Resolution.

Rob: Yes! That’s a great point. How funny. I was reminded of our recent discussion about the controversial ending of The Blair Witch Project. That movie earned a huge audience, roughly half of which were left feeling utterly ticked off by its lack of narrative closure. The great inspiration in Benson’s script for Resolution is to make that menacing energy into an omnipresent off-screen antagonist. Real life vs. Narrative. I love the strange little thumping noises and flickers of over-exposed celluloid that pulsate throughout the film. Benson and Moorhead’s editing also deserves special mention for its skittish rhythms and wry comedic moments. (“I can’t just go cold turk–“)

Chris: There’s a lot of that, and I guess here’s where I have my mostly mild criticisms of the film. Comparing it to Cabin in the Woods (which is hard not to do, obviously), I felt like the funny bits here were amusing, but they also felt like maybe there was too much effort going into wedging them in rather then setting them up more carefully. Cabin fully earns Bradley Whitford’s “Oh, you gotta be kidding me.” It felt like Resolution wanted a few of those, but sort of forced them into improvisational dialogue that sometimes got awkward.

I also couldn’t really understand what was going on with the edges-melting filmstrip stuff. At the end of the movie we’re given a “Footage courtesy of the Sycona Indian Reservation” (there’s no such thing) woo woo that suggests…what? That we’re supposed to think this is a found footage movie? It isn’t. The camera’s fairly omniscient, going where it needs to go to roll the plot along. Was there an earlier version of this film that was a found footage movie? It felt like some of this was leftover from that, stuff the directors couldn’t bear to leave behind.

Rob: In the end, I’d say Resolution is enjoyably heady stuff but without any true scares or narrative satisfaction, it felt lacking. But I’d still recommend checking it out if the idea of an ultra-low budget spin on Cabin in the Woods sounds appealing. Fans of that movie will have a lot of fun just comparing and contrasting these two films, particularly their final shots. There are enough moments of skillful craft and playful invention to make it worth your while. Just don’t get mad if it doesn’t end the way you wanted.

Chris: I enjoyed it and likely more than you did, Rob. It is well-filmed and expertly edited (Resolution does a lot with a limited budget). I enjoyed Chris and Michael and the way they interacted, their dialogue and mannerisms. I also absolutely loved the final line. It’s so perfect for Michael, so fitting with his “Let me write you a check” personality. It goes right up there with Matthew Modine standing on a building and saying “What?” as a surprising dialogue finale to a film.

(Resolution is available to stream for Netflix subscribers, and is also available to buy or rent from the usual VOD outlets.)

(So what’s this “golden age of horror” stuff?)