It would be a travesty to share too much about Resurrection, one of the most gasped-about horrors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. But know this: even if you’re a disciple of the genre, there will be a handful of turns you’ve never seen nor expect. Rebecca Hall plays a successful businessperson and single mother who begins to come apart at the seams when a menacing figure from her past—played by Tim Roth—re-emerges in the most creepy of ways after decades apart.
Writer-director Andrew Semans’ screenplay has been lauded as one of the most original at this year’s festival. And when his team needed a place to store scripts, budgets, and other files during the development phase, they turned to Dropbox. “Sharing files was very, very easy. We kept all our stuff in Dropbox so everybody could access it at all times,” Semans said. “I would download from Dropbox or upload to Dropbox, and it always worked.”
Here, he offers a glimpse into his own creative process: the tired cliches he avoided, the unconventional places he found inspiration, and the personal fears that motivated him to create a story so twisted.
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Resurrection has received lots of praise for being so fresh. Where did you get the first creative impulse for it?
One thing I often do when I'm trying to come up with an idea for a story, a character, or some kernel to get going on a project is ask what scares me. What's something that really, deeply frightens me on some level?
Certain people I knew were involved in unhealthy relationships with very toxic individuals who were highly controlling and manipulative. I became interested and terrified by the dynamics and psychology of these relationships—the techniques these controlling people utilized to manipulate and form powerful bonds with their victims.
I also thought about being unable to prevent your child from injury, harm, victimization. And failing in some fundamental way as a parent. Even though I'm not a parent, that’s something that resonated. It felt like a fruitful path and got me thinking about the parental vigilante sub-genre.
That’s a well trodden path. What tropes were you consciously avoiding?
These movies are usually fantasy films—these sort of grandiose wish fulfillment fantasies where, if your child was somehow threatened or imperiled, you’d suddenly become a superhero. That just through the force of your love and will, you’d become indomitable, indestructible, and save your child—which is fine. There are good movies that have that going on. But I wanted to try to create a story that, to me, felt more psychologically realistic. Where things didn’t work out in quite a perfect, fantasy, action-hero kind of way.
I also really didn't want the movie to be a phoenix narrative where someone, specifically a woman, is somehow galvanized by violence and turned into a superhero—where they’re redeemed or empowered via some kind of trauma. That is something you see a lot and I find it disturbing, so I wanted to avoid that as well.
You paced out a lot of truly surprising moments. What guided your process?
I always wanted the movie to be pretty lean, pretty spare. I knew from the first moment the basics of how I wanted it to end, but all the details around that changed over time.
This is a personal preference, really, but I liked the idea of withholding information for a significant portion of the movie and doling it out in a specific way. I wanted the film to culminate in something that felt quite different from the rest of the movie. When you're writing, you have to just go with your gut and think, “Okay, does this feel truthful? Does this feel exciting? Is this interesting?” Hopefully over the draft process you get rid of the stuff that feels extraneous or silly and you hold on to the stuff that feels compelling and truthful.
How did the roles evolve once you were collaborating with such stellar leads?
Rebecca is a truly extraordinary actor and understood the script completely, immediately. It was such a luxury that she would give variations, but everything was terrific. Everything was appropriate. Everything was usable.
Tim had this very specific take on the character. One thing he wanted to do, which resonated with me a lot and excited me, is that he was convinced that bad guy roles—characters who are immoral or unethical or doing malignant things—don’t conceive of themselves as evil. You're always the protagonist in your own story. So he wanted to play the character as someone who understood himself to be doing the right thing. He didn't want to play a mustache-twirling villain. He wanted to play him kind of like a regular person. He’s the romantic lead, in his own mind.
Horror has never had more of a presence at Sundance. What appealed to you about the genre?
I’m drawn to thrillers and horrors because I like making psychological films. For me, horror has always been a space where you can make explicitly psychological movies about fear and do so in a very, very frank way that invites contradiction and complication. You can let the darker parts run wild. If you want to introduce a lot of messy, unconscious material, horror movies have always allowed that. It’s harder in a straight drama or comedy.
Are there films you kept coming back to for inspiration?
Todd Hayne’s Safe is one of my favorite movies and is always on my mind to one degree or another. Klute by Alan Pakula. And then also a lot of different ‘70s paranoid thrillers, like Don’t Look Now and The Conversation.
It has to be incredibly fulfilling to have seen this project grow from a seedling to a Sundance film. What moments of that journey stand out as really meaningful?
My producers, who have been with the project the whole time, have been so remarkable. Working with them was huge because I had admired their work. And it was enormous when Rebecca Hall took an interest. It made it feel real. I was just like, “Oh my goodness! I might be able to make a good movie here! I’ll have an extraordinary central performance, because that’s all she knows how to give.” And then working with Tim Roth—I was kinda blown away that he wanted to do it, and it was so exciting working with a legend like him.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.