Saturday, October 5, 2013

Resolution: Story Ghosts

Ghosts are generally portrayed as spirits stuck in a particular place, often doomed to reenact the behaviors that led to their undead state. Sometimes the ghost is malevolent, sometimes it' s sympathetic, but either way, something needs to happen to free them from the cycle in which they're trapped. So ghost stories are as much about the ghost's story as about the ghost itself. It's a wonderfully flexible conceit, because you can use it to create monsters (the mad doctor in the remake of The House on Haunted Hill), tragedies (the little girl poisoned in The Sixth Sense), or neat little flips from one to the other (Samara in the remake of The Ring).

Resolution does something really cool by making the story itself into the ghost.

Mike is on his way into a rural part of (presumably) the Pacific Northwest after receiving a video file from his friend Chris. The file shows Chris having a grand old time, living out in the woods with a dog companion, shooting at birds, shooting at cans and bottles, shooting at nothing, talking to empty air, smoking a whole lot of crack (or crystal meth, it's never really made clear), and sitting in the middle of a field, screaming at nothing.

So Mike's come to help Chris get clean, whether he wants it or not. Chris insists he doesn't want help, doesn't need help, and would prefer to die of his own excesses in his squalid shack out in the woods. Chris has pretty much alienated everyone else in his life, and Mike's pretty close, but he's willing to make this one last attempt to rescue his friend and his friendship. There are some complications - a couple of drug dealers insist that Chris has a stash of their drugs, and they want it back. Chris doesn't know where it is, and assumes he smoked it all. It also turns out that Chris is squatting on tribal land and is about to be in a lot of trouble. Mike has 5 days to dry Chris out and bring him back to civilization to go into rehab. So it's all pretty tense. In the middle of managing everything, Mike discovers a box of really old photographs under the house, photographs that seem to chronicle the death of two people. Even stranger, the last photo directs Mike to a nearby shack, where he finds an old phonograph record that again seems to be an audio recording of someone's death.

And this leads to another recording, which leads to another recording…

Resolution really skirts the edges of what you'd typically call a horror movie. For the first half of its runtime, it's pretty much just the story of two friends, one of whom is going down for the third time, the other willing to stick out his hand yet again. The threats are drug dealers, sketchy tribal property owners, other assorted misfits and castoffs who live in the woods, and Chris' own worst impulses. The weirdness takes awhile to build, and it happens in the background, without fanfare, eliciting the same sort of deadpan creepiness as the similarly low-budget and rural Yellowbrickroad, but with the supernatural elements pushed as far into the background as they were pushed to the fore in Yellowbrickroad. The tension begins as a natural extension of the situation in which the protagonists find themselves, and then slowly starts to spill over into something much stranger. The woods are filled with stories, told in photographs, journals, slides, 8mm film, VHS, records, and none of them end well. Instead of ghosts, the woods are haunted by the stories themselves, the stories the ghosts would typically tell. It's hard to talk about this movie without giving away too much, because it isn't really clear what's happening until the absolute end of the film, and everything sort of coheres once everything has happened that's going to happen. It's such a low-key, understated approach that I was still putting pieces together well into the credits - it wasn't so much a shock of realization as realization settling in, like sediment sinking to the bottom of a pond.

It also reminds me of the movie Monsters, in that it's as much about the relationship between the two protagonists as the circumstances in which they find themselves, and that attention to the characters, their history, and their relationship is a tremendous asset to the film. These feel like two real people who have known each other a very long time and have had as many bad times as good, and are now at a point where they have to examine that relationship and who they are as people. It's well-realized enough that we don't really notice how strange things are becoming - even considering a whole cast of oddballs, from UFO cultists to escapees from a mental hospital to oily, predatory house-flippers, all of whom sort of pop up out of nowhere - until it's right on top of us, and Chris and Mike are swallowed whole by their circumstances.

Ghosts have stories to tell, and these stories serve an audience. You'd be excused if you thought you were the audience for these stories, but you aren't. There are a lot of weird people in the woods, and there are a bunch of reasons why they could be there, just as there are a bunch of reasons why what's happening to Mike and Chris is happening, but the reasons aren't really the point - the reasons are sort of a necessary part of something much bigger and ancient, and very, very hungry. Resolution takes its sweet time, putting all of the pieces in place, and when the penny finally drops, you realize that every little quirky diversion throughout, every odd occurrence, they were all pointing to something meaningful and monstrous the whole time.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Available from Amazon Instant Video
Available from Netflix

1 comment:

  1. I'd been hearing about this one for awhile, but most of the reviews I've read (other than this one) don't go much beyond the initial set-up, which I never found particularly compelling. I finally watched it, and I wasn't prepared for how good it is, or for how much I enjoyed it. It's one of the best horror movies I've seen in a very long time. The acting is solid throughout, and the writing is exceptional (and versatile - both the profanity-laced dialogue between the protagonists and the esoteric monologue from the French academic in the trailer were extremely well-written, and the fact that they occur in the same movie is pretty impressive). Actually, the type of horror on display here reminds me of older horror fiction (e.g., stories like Algernon Blackwood's "The WIllows") more than most films I can think of offhand, and I love that. I hope to see a lot more from Justin Benson in years to come.