Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Dreadful Decade (Part II): Resolution (2012) dir. Justin Benson, Aaron Moorehead

Logline: After being e-mailed a video chronicling the dire condition of his drug-addicted friend (Chris, portrayed by Vinny Curran), Michael (Peter Cilella) resolves to help his long-estranged buddy break free of his dependency by confronting him at his remote cabin in the woods. Michael decides to go the tough love route, handcuffing the stubborn Chris to the wall and vowing to help him through his violent, expletive-filled withdrawal over the next few days and nights. Complications arise when it's discovered that Chris has lost a large supply of his dealers' drugs and that he's actually squatting on a Native American reservation. But worst of all are the mysterious documents and recordings being left around the cabin and surrounding woods for Michael to discover, documents and recordings that begin to reveal the horrific history of the area and eventually suggest the possibility that someone is attempting to revise the story these two friends are living out.

Analysis: Resolution is a film about the demands audiences make and the unfortunate effects these demands can have upon characters living within a narrative world. As part of an audience, we have certain expectations for structure. We expect development and complication, explanation and resolution. Beginning, middle, end. Only the most tolerant of us aren't angry when a narrative fails to include any of these aspects, whether it be out of ineptitude or defiance. After watching movies or reading books we've been somehow disappointed with, we often express our wish for how it should have ended. In contrast to most narratives outside of Choose Your Own Adventure books, Resolution gives this power of revision to the audience, though in a limited way. The film presumes to know what sort of plot we want, and it chastises and punishes its characters whenever they fail to provide it. What we want (says the film) is an unhappy ending.

The first time I watched Resolution, I was somewhat put off by this assertion that the film makes. After all, hadn't I grown unusually fond of these characters over the length of the movie? Hadn't I wanted them to escape their predicament and resolve the issues in their lives and friendship? Why would I wish them the ill that the film claims I do? I thought that the film was working at cross purposes by including such well-wrought character drama and then assuring me that I wanted to see these likable fellows dead, one way or another. But further viewings and reflection has me feeling differently. 

I think Resolution is correct. As an audience member, I wanted events beyond the mundane to transpire in these characters' fictional lives. When creepy recordings turn up in and around the cabin, I want Michael to explore them despite his better sense, to probe further and risk putting himself in danger. I desire problems and drama within the central relationship of the film, and I yearn for them to be resolved. When the characters maintain that their personal problems (like so many problems in our real lives) can't be solved, I'm happy when the film forces them to reconsider, in spite of whatever further dangers or traumas they will have to experience. In a sense, I derived my entertainment from these characters' suffering, and so, by extension, how could I ever be satisfied with a happy ending, especially within the context of an ostensible horror film? I'll need the truly horrific to rear its ugly head eventually, whatever the cost. Resolution doesn't fail me on this count. Or, rather, I don't fail it.

Technical Merits: The film's naturalistic, nearly Dogme 95-esque approach to visual storytelling (single location, handheld camerawork, the absence of a musical score) is offset by creeping reminders of the essential artificiality of the images on screen. Scenes occasionally transition from one to the next by way of an audio and video effect that is akin to a hot projector burning up the print passing through it. One of these faux-antiquated effects (the presence of such being curious enough considering the film was captured digitally on the Red One camera) even interrupts a scene mid-conversation, causing our two leads to question the strange noise they just heard (but which, of course, they should not have.) These metafictional stylistic contradictions are deliberate, making apparent on screen that the archetypal audience's desire for a certain type of ancient narrative transcends time, format, medium, and style itself. Notice, for example, the fact that Michael's discoveries throughout the film reveal numerous narratives to us, and while each takes on a different form--photographs, projector slides, books, vinyl records, film reels, video tapes, audio tapes, computer-recorded video-- each also possesses the same grim ending. As the medium improves over time, imbuing its images and sounds with greater clarity, definition, and verisimilitude, we may forget that what we're watching is a constructed story. Resolution's approach ensures that we remember.

Relevance: A quote from the Village Voice on the front cover of Resolution's home video release boldly proclaims that Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead's film "puts The Cabin in the Woods to shame." That's not an entirely honest assessment. Certainly, both films are metafictional reflections on horror cinema and both take place in a woods-ensconced cabin, but similarities end there. Cabin in the Woods is unmistakably a genre film, while Resolution is not so easily classified. Cabin in the Woods revels in the various permutations of the same basic story we see again and again in horror films; Resolution dreads the inescapable pull of a deeper, ingrained narrative structure that anticipates (perhaps requires) tragedy. Cabin in the Woods is excess; Resolution is restraint. A "one coin, two sides" situation. For the open-minded viewer, they make lovely companion pieces to one another.

But it's that unclassifiable nature of Resolution that makes it noteworthy for admirers of horror cinema. Its decided refusal to engage earnestly in any stock horror movie cliche is noble. (Moments of the film gleefully deflate recognizable scare tactics like the figure tapping on the window or the person lurking in the dark of a cave.) Yet, it's the film's dedication to employing a primal essence of horror that is what defines it. It presents us with objects of fear that have no face, and with suspense that derives from no obvious or explainable catalyst. The film is full of palpable unease, but its audience would be hard pressed to describe for you its monsters. Are these monsters indeed personifications of the audience, or are they more supernatural in origin, as the final moments might suggest? Or are they instead all too human, or cosmic, or spiritual? As the eccentric French hermit, Byron (Bill Oberst, Jr.), asks Michael in the film, how can an isolated tribesman in Ecuador tell the difference between an alien, an angel, and a ghost? He can't, of course, but he can perhaps sense a difference of intent, and the intent of those undefined forces in Resolution is undeniably no good.


  1. Thank you so much for the thoughtful look at our movie!

    1. You are, of course, welcome. Thanks for making a great film!