Mike Danube (Peter Cilella) gets an e-mail one night from his burned-out junkie friend Chris (Vinny Curran). The video shows Chris reveling in his high, a clear danger to himself and others, and includes a map to his location. Mike sees it as a cry for help, and goes to try and help his old friend kick the habit cold turkey. But it soon becomes clear that Chris didn’t send the video; someone – or something – else did.
Resolution (co-directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, from a script by Benson) made a splash at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival. It’s a new addition in the newish genre of mumblecore scifi/horror (e.g. Entrance or Primer). It’s mostly handheld, low-budget, and seems like an indie character drama, until things start to get spooky. The set-up is great for suspense. Mike finds Chris squatting in a house whose location seems to have a mysterious power surrounding it. It’s on an Indian reservation, nearby caves with strange carvings, and it has drawn everyone from scientific researchers to cult members. Mike keeps finding strange items (books, film reels, pictures), all centering around some kind of grim story. Since Chris is drug-addled, detoxing, and chained to a pipe, he’s not much help to Mike, and the paranoia builds.
A key feature of Resolution is the way that it creates a parallel between the dramatic conflict between the two friends, and the supernatural conflict surrounding the house. They build alongside each other as the film progresses, and ultimately have to come to a – you guessed it – resolution. What’s interesting is it seems that either story could exist on its own. But the filmmakers choose to use each storyline to inform and comment on the other.
While there are few “popcorn on the ceiling” moments, the film does cultivate a sense of dread in the viewer, a sense that something is very wrong which constantly sets the audience on edge. In true lo-fi fashion, it’s the story, direction, and some practical camera effects which achieve this feeling. A lot of this comes from Mike looking through old books and film reels, wandering into dark caves, and other things that a sensible person probably wouldn’t. It’s hard to tell if this is a flaw with the film, or if this is the filmmakers’ way of expressing the allure of “story” in the philosophical sense.
There’s also an intriguing question about the nature of horror, reminiscent of Cabin in the Woods. Many of the mysterious happenings around Chris and Mike are connected to videos they find of themselves. We don’t know who’s making the videos, but on a thematic level, we can see ourselves as viewers complicit with the filmmakers in viewing these characters surreptitiously. At times the videos they find of themselves are identical frames to ones we’ve seen as an audience. Are we the ones who demand a resolution of them? Is the horror genre, or maybe cinema in general, the force that demands a beginning, middle and end to their story?
There are some elements that hold the dramatic side from being fully effective. Peter Cilella’s performance as Mike is too underplayed at times. He’s going for subtle, and that’s good, but it gets to be too minimal to be engaging. Vinny Curran is given an easier job in portraying the raucous Chris, but he can go too far in the other direction, becoming cartoonish. Not to mention that it seems like he’s trying to get the word “fuck” into every single sentence he says. It becomes repetitive. Still, the two have some very good scenes together, especially near the end of the movie. Their scenes of dramatic conflict are given the same importance in the film as the horror scenes. The supporting cast mostly wanders in and out of the film, but there is a memorable performance by horror veteran Bill Oberst Jr. as a creepy French scientist.
The way horror and drama are weaved together, commenting on the nature of story, makes Resolution a surprisingly enjoyable film for such a low-budget endeavor. It’s brave enough to explore meta-narrative ideas in film without losing its grip on its own story. It can be about Chris and Mike’s relationship, about the mystery surrounding the house, and about the philosophy in a viewer’s approach to cinema. These are filmmakers with sure hands, and will hopefully use the success at Tribeca to go on to bigger and brighter things.