Horror films are often the genre of choice for novice directors, allegedly because they have one of the best return on investment ratios in the business — they can be made fairly cheaply and generally do well both at the box office and on home video. One of the usual cost-cutting measures is to hire unknown actors. So it’s interesting to see a director, Matt Orlando, whose debut film actually features some recognizable names. While most aren’t what household names, all but a few of the principle characters are played by actors who have had a modest assortment of film roles.
The film’s lead is Mischa Barton, playing high school counselor Jessie Parker. Miss Parker has her work cut out for her one day when troubled teenager Eli gets into a fight with half a dozen senior students. Eli (J. Michael Trautmann) lost his brother in a hit-and-run the week before, and seems to blame the seniors. Things take a turn for the weird when Eli tells the seniors that his brother is coming back, and is coming for them.
The kid’s brother dies in an accident, and this is the first time the counselor has met him. Seems like a bit of an institutional problem there.
While counselor Parker tries to get to the bottom of things — holding all the involved students in the school building long past school hours — her boyfriend, the sheriff’s deputy (Devon Sawa) has a mystery of his own to look into. Someone’s been doing some grave robbing. The grave of Eli’s brother is dug up and empty.
The film plays everything low-key, especially early on. While it toys with a supernatural element from the beginning, it leaves open the question of whether there’s really something going on, or if it’s all just in Eli’s head until the very end. Trautmann does a very convincing job as the deeply disturbed teenager — one gets the impression that he was somewhat unhinged long before his brother’s death, and this is merely the trigger. Barton, meanwhile, plays a fairly realistic high school counselor, one who is genuinely concerned about the children, but also genuinely human and as prone to getting frustrated and fed up as anybody else. All too often in films we see high school teachers and counselors who can weather abuse from the kids with the greatest of ease, so it’s somewhat refreshing to see one snap back at the smart remarks and stubbornness.
The film also features Michael Clarke Duncan as the school principal, in one of his final roles. (A Resurrection had a limited theatrical release in March 2013; Duncan passed away shortly after filming it in the summer of 2012.) It’s a role that is sadly just a little too small; Duncan was a great actor, and gives his character a terrific sense of presence, but it’s not much more than a ten minute cameo all told.
A Resurrection is a horror film that’s a little light on the horror. It operates as a suspense film for most of its run time, but despite capable performances from Barton and Trautmann, it never quite manages to make the transition from the audience being bothered by Eli to being frightened by him. When it finally transitions to the horror aspects, it’s fairly abrupt, and it doesn’t show much. It’s not a problem that it’s light on gore; it’s the correct choice for a film that mostly runs on suspense. The problem is that with most of the attacks occurring — start to finish — entirely off-screen, the suspense that it’s trying to build doesn’t get many opportunities to pay off.
Despite these issues, the film is reasonably entertaining. It’s just that rather than an edge-of-your-seat thriller, it’s a quiet little mood piece. But that’s not always a bad thing.