Toronto After Dark 2012: Resolution Review

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David Mamet once wrote that the end of a great film should be both surprising and inevitable. Resolution is a horror movie of ideas; a twisted semiotic pretzel which is an ode to our collective addiction to scary movies and how we glean meaning from the experience. The titles dual meaning, both in the finality of an ending and as a means of seeing things clearer (particularly in audio-visual media) is one of those simple, perfect choices that not only gets at the experience of watching the film, but more significantly in retrospect. Unlike the smug, offhand silliness of Joss Whedon and Drew Stoddard’s Cabin in the Woods, this one makes you give a damn – not only about the films Lost-ish puzzle box, but about the two exceptionally well realized characters.

Opening with a grotty low-rez video of bearded junkie who is high as a kite and shooting off guns in the middle of nowhere, the camera pulls back to reveal Michael, at home with his lovely wife, viewing his best friends sad escapades with resignation and confusion. The latter because the video came with a Google Map link in the middle of nowhere. Looking at things like a plea for help, Michael gathers up his camping gear, some food and cash supplies and a pair of handcuffs. Determined to answer Chris’s plea for help, and detox his best friend for good, Michael assures his wife that he will be gone for no more than a week, and eventually land Chris in a good rehab place. Upon Michael’s arrival to the rotting house, just on the inside of a California Indian reservation, where Chris has been squatting in for a few days, there is some confusion: He was not sent for by Chris who certainly has no access to a computer or video editing equipment, not to mention that his pal is smack dab in the middle of a major crystal meth bender. That not-so-minor mystery aside, Michael carries through with his plan, much to Chris’s chagrin. Not only does this intervention test the limit of the two men’s life-long friendship but it brings in a number of pragmatic issues. The local meth dealers know where Chris is hiding out and want either their money or their drugs back, Chris is hazy on the location of the latter or is itching for his next fix – or both. The owner of the house they are camping out in wants them out of there (or cash to stay) and offers a less explicit, but no less real threat, of violence as well. Then there is the nearby mental asylum that lets some of its patients wander about the desert wilderness, there are dozens of hobo junkies far worse along than Chris, a local cult-like christian sect has their crisp white shirted members also wandering about (played by the director and writing team of Aaron Moorehead and Justin Benson in one of the films many nods towards meta-ness) and rumours of devil worship, ghosts, native spirits, you name it. Hell there is even a slimy real-estate salesman that might just be the creepiest of a fairly dense cast of lost souls wandering about in the wasteland. Someone comments at one point, “there are a lot of junkies buried out in these hills.”

Michael is fearless in dealing with his friends mounting withdrawal pain and the requisite emotional warfare employed by a junkie separated from his junk. He handles the alarming external situations (gunshots and scare tactics from the locals) with practicality and confidence. Perhaps over-confidence. He offers painstaking assurances to his concerned wife via cell which are flat out (if comforting) lies, “Everything is safe and under control, Hun.” Seven days is a lengthy stretch time to stay cooped up with a sick and often sleeping friend and all the interesting and abandoned detritus scattered about the area is an irresistible distraction in spite of the potential dangers. Michael starts to find old bits of media scattered about the grounds: Old photographs, journals, vinyl sound recordings, super 8 footage and VHS tapes; the entire gamut. Michael’s growing obsession to form some sort of narrative from all these creepy found objects combined with Chris coming out of his drug sickness starts the transference of paranoia and addiction from one friend to the other. As the shift begins to (almost literally) rattle the film editing both Michael and Chris attempt to ground themselves in whatever cold logic they can brainstorm; feeble attempts to diffuse the mounting supernatural. The film wants to shake their believes up a bit and re-write their perception of reality. Visual clues abound in the film such as the increasing resolution of the media – from old photos to laptop web-cameras, from vinyl to optical media; effective use of mirrors in the cramped quarters of a trailer and the faded blue butterfly on Chris’ shirt – If a horror concept flaps its wings in Japan, will it cause an exorcism in California?

Having ably establish likable and flawed characters, for whom you give a damn, the film embarks on what it really is about; namely the audiences own addiction to horror films. The rising tension over the first act and much of the second shifts occasionally hyper-real and positively surreal narrative folding in on itself that is shocking in its effectiveness – thus making it both a critique on the genre, but also a shining example of what it comments upon. It reminded me a fair bit of last years stylish descent into madness the DIY-indie Bellflower, but in equal proportion the unsettling mumble-horror A Horrible Way To Die (Vinny Curran who plays Chris even bears a striking resemblance to A.J. Bowen.) In other words smart and daring indie films that want to play with the form without ever leaving the audience behind. The creators here belong in the class of bright young voices in American horror to watch including Ti West, Jim Mickle and Adam Wingard. Resolution, before its resolution, goes into places that are both satisfyingly dramatic and disturbingly dark. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find a few of them surprisingly funny, the line between hilarity and fear being alarmingly thin at times. Drawing us in with the trials and humanity of Chris and Michael it gets to shake up enough deep rooted conventions in the genre and dangle them out on a clothes-line of ideas to make us lean forward in the dark and take notice. When Michael, thoroughly stressed out and at absolute wits end says, “If we can get to the end of this reel of film, we will be fine.” The result is indeed both surprising and inevitable.

Kurt Halfyard
Resident culture snob.

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