Written by: Justin Benson
Directed by: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, and Zahn McClarnon
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I think it wants a story with an ending."
In this review, I resolve not to make a play on words with the title…ah, shit. Sorry, folks.
Anyway, about that word, “resolution”—it’s one that’s loaded with multiple meanings, all of which are mined and explored here by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in this clever, tricky film. Imagine a puzzle box with sides and faces that continually shift in your hands, seemingly manipulated by unseen forces. Maybe it eventually comes into focus, but you’ll be damned if you ever feel like you have a real grip on it. That’s Resolution—a film that proves to be constantly slippery and ultimately a bit elusive. Just when you think you’ve got it pinned down, it slips off and unnerves you in an entirely different way. By the end, even the title’s meaning has evolved from one definition to the next.
Consider first the most obvious one: “a firm decision to do or not do something.” That’s what Michael (Peter Cilella) wants from Chris (Vinny Curran) after he receives a disturbing video of his friend holed up in a cabin and coked out of his mind. Despite the reservations of his pregnant wife, he sets off for Chris’s retreat only to meet with more protests from his old buddy, who refuses to sober up. Undeterred, Mike makes his own resolution to force sobriety upon Chris by handcuffing him to a pipe and cutting him off from his beloved crack pipe. Only trouble follows when the fallout of Chris’s drug binge begins to radiate around the duo in the form of pissed-off dealers and nearby landowners who don’t appreciate cokehead squatters. It’s just a prelude to the real weirdness, however, as Mike’s exploration of the area uncovers a decades (or centuries?) old force that eternally seeks closure to stories—a resolution, if you will.
Thanks to both its setting and metafictional conceit, Resolution inevitably earns a comparison to The Cabin in the Woods, and it’s not out-of-bounds to consider it a lo-fi companion piece. Each film is up to similar things but diverge in their approach: where Whedon and Goddard’s meta-masterpiece practically winks as it chews through the fourth wall, Resolution is content to sidle up next to it before slinking by. For a good stretch of the film, Benson and Moorhead practically bury the lede with a rather grounded story: for all intents and purposes, this could easily be a straightforward and affecting drama anchored by two lived-in performances. You feel the struggle between these two old friends who have drifted apart to radically different lives, and the palatable tension yields to anguish, regret, and maybe even a glimmer of hope.
But then all sorts of extra weirdness seeps into their lives. Mike stumbles upon a bizarre cult convinced their messiah will arrive in a UFO. A woman from the local asylum creeps by the cabin window at night. Mysterious media artifacts begin cropping up, from cryptic drawings to some impossibly shot footage of Mike and Chris arguing. There’s a growing feeling that Mike has been summoned by something beyond comprehension, especially when it becomes obvious that Chris could have never emailed him a video in the first place. As the procession of strange events mounts, one can almost imagine the directors from Cabin in the Woods furiously rifling through every option on their whiteboard before unleashing all of them—on a haunted Indian reservation, naturally.
Here, though, this procession of apparent non-sequiturs isn’t a glib acknowledgment of clichés; instead, Resolution feels like a rough draft sorting itself out. It’s almost as if its unseen antagonist can’t figure out how it wants to go about dispatching its victims, so it dangles a host of obvious possibilities before veering off to an obtuse course, where it resolves itself to revealing the end of its own story—maybe. There’s something quite unnerving about the existential dread of this film’s final act, which captures both its characters and its audience in a hellish loop. Up until this point, Resolution has only offered an occasional glance at the audience; here, however, its gaze is more focused as it explores the nature of storytelling. All stories demand an ending—what happens when the characters refuse to comply? The unsettling answer here subtly shifts the blame to an audience that demands blood for this type of story. We’re the Old Gods, satiated only by carnage and violence. Happy endings don’t do.
Resolution sneaks up on you. Its compelling story and ominous atmosphere make immediate impressions alongside the various, clichéd horror overtures that somehow feel potent in this twilight zone. What lingers beyond this, however, is its subtle caginess. For a film that presents so many possibilities, Resolution is remarkably short on answers. Even its obligatory exposition dump from a gabby French scientist feels like so much nonsense, save for his observation that every story requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. Such an inevitably gives birth to monsters that haunt us all, from creators to audience members—ultimately, this film is only resolved to pointing out the inescapable horror of finality. Admittedly, it doesn't grab your attention like a unicorn impaling a guy, but it sticks with you all the same. Buy it!
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