Resolution - SideReel Review
The premise of directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead’s low-budget horror film Resolution is fiendishly simple. Michael (Peter Cilella) is e-mailed a disturbing, jaggedly edited video clip of his best friend Chris (Vinny Curran), obviously drunk and under the influence of drugs, firing a shotgun indiscriminately into the air and accidentally injuring himself in some vast outdoor location. The file came with a map, so he sets off to find and help his old buddy. Turns out that Chris is holed up in an abandoned, never-quite-finished cabin on a Native American reservation, doing little more than feeding his gargantuan crack addiction. Michael handcuffs Chris to a pipe and informs his addled friend that he’s going to take care of him for a week or so -- as long as it takes for the drugs to clear out of his body -- and after that Chris is free to continue being a junkie if he wants.
One of the first things about Resolution that catches you off guard is the humor. Benson, who wrote the screenplay, encourages us to laugh by making Chris a motormouthed whiner and manipulator; the picture mines the basic setup for black comedy as much as it does drama. And just as you’ve settled in for what appears to be a typically talky indie film, Michael starts discovering various mysteries and threats, including drug dealers Chris has stolen from, members of the reservation who want these two white men off their allegedly cursed land, zombielike citizens of a local halfway house who stumble by unexpectedly, a mysterious French professor living not too far away in a trailer, an eerie collection of old photographs squared away underneath the cabin, and an odd cache of old technology Chris finds on a walk. By the time videotapes containing footage of Chris and Michael at the cabin arrive at their doorstep -- a possible nod to David Lynch’s Lost Highway -- neither they nor we know quite what to make of the situation, and it’s this gradual addition of threats where Resolution is at its strongest. Benson and Moorhead layer these elements with a sure-handedness that’s unexpected from two novice directors.
However, when they really stir things up in the movie’s final act, paying off the various genre elements to different degrees, the filmmakers reveal that their goal all along has been to get you to think about your responses to what was happening. They admirably give us some closure regarding Chris and Michael’s relationship, but not with the situation they’re in, and that disappointing open-endedness -- which is obviously purposeful given the intentionally ironic title -- pulls the rug out from under those who have invested in the expertly woven mystery.
Of all the popular genres of cinema, horror films arguably have the richest tradition of self-aware postmodernism. Scream laid bare the cliches of teen slasher movies while it attempted to scare the hell out of you. In 2012, director Drew Goddard and his co-screenwriter Joss Whedon upped the ante with The Cabin in the Woods, a frightfest so self-referential that it ended up commenting not just on the conventions of the genre, but on the audience’s need to revisit these tropes time after time. One year later with Resolution, Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead aren’t working on as large a scale as Goddard and Whedon, but they actually produce an even creepier atmosphere of doom for the characters while leaving the audience to ponder what they want from a horror film.