“They said they were researching folktales”
Films like Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead‘s Resolution can’t help but get under your skin and risk never letting go. Any issues you may have about production quality, plot holes, pacing, and performances fall away because of one genius detail planting the seeds of curiosity. Then, when you attempt to discover answers, inspiration, or whatever else might help shine a light on exactly what these filmmakers created, the rabbit hole opens wider to reveal an internet puzzle still intact today courtesy of nom de plume Jesse Summoner. Just mentioning that name risks pushing his Twitter and WordPress trail onto you prematurely because its peripheral journey does a disservice to the film’s ability to convert new viewers into believers first. Reading his entries makes the movie out to seem found footage, but it’s more complicated than that.
This question of “is it or isn’t it” becomes a double-edged sword due to the answer’s ambiguity revealing unavoidable aesthetic problems. To watch Resolution is to witness a conventional horror movie gaze wherein we the audience experience action unfolding onscreen from Michael Danube’s (Peter Cilella) perspective. Yes there are visual and aural flourishes making it seem as though the picture is twice removed or at least the product of a recording device somehow part of the story rather than outside it, but they are mere cues opening up a possibility. Without your undivided investment leading your gaze to a very important copyright caption at the end that will eventually direct you to Summoner’s story, the effect seems half-baked. Or maybe Moorhead and Benson embrace this ambiguity as a test. Only devotees are allowed.
It’s only those jumping at the chance to uncover secrets that stumble upon the scavenger hunt of clues pointing at found footage in the first place. And only at that moment can you fathom a social commentary similar to Michael Haneke‘s meta-thriller Funny Games wherein viewers become complicit to violence. No longer can we simply sit in a theater and watch lives ripped apart, screaming or laughing at the action because we’ve allowed a detachment between reality and fiction to keep us safe. After all, who’s to say what we watch is make-believe? Is it not possible that we’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a snuff film but are unaware enough to treat its characters as disposable pawns in a game ending at the word “cut”? Moorhead and Benson are blurring this divide to make it so.
I can’t stop connecting Resolution with the mythology of The Slender Man as a result—a supernatural monster who abducts and traumatizes its victims in a voyeuristic capacity. A vantage point shift at the conclusion of the film helps parallel this figure with the antagonist of Moorhead and Benson’s creation, including the urge to ask for forgiveness and instruction rather than run. As “Victor Surge” captioned his earliest photomanipulation “We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time …”, there exists a magnetism and awe in facing him. Michael and his friend Chris Daniels (Vinny Curran) think they can appease this unknown entity stalking them because it simultaneously provides assistance with terror. It’s not a sign of benevolence, though.
As for the story presenting this adventure extending beyond itself, plot is very much a construct to enlist us. It’s a MacGuffin driving towards a climactic reveal so much grander than anything Michael or Chris could do. This means there will be some stumbling along the way—Resolution being the directors’ debut film assists this inevitability too—but the device isn’t without charm. Just look at the simplicity of its table turn where the guy who should be unreliable (Chris’ junkie) becomes our control of trust since he’s chained to a wall the entire movie. It’s therefore Michael (the responsible, soon-to-be-Dad with a hero complex) who we question. Is he behind the weirdness? Why is he finding so much mysterious media? Are Charles (Zahn McClarnon) and Byron (Bill Oberst Jr.) figments of his imagination?
The idea that Michael would spend seven days away from his wife to kidnap and force sobriety onto his friend is absurd, yet it provides the perfect venue for what’s hidden underneath. Moorhead and Benson utilize this same deflection with more confidence and clarity on their second feature Spring, so it’s cool to see Resolution as an early draft. There are a lot of red herrings to confuse and distract and we know the manipulation going on even if we cannot put our thumbs on why until much later. This can and does take us out of the action at times. The duo did a much better job hiding the machinations with Spring, but this film has a broader scope and centers on our blind faith in cinema being fiction so perhaps knowing is intentional.
In the end Resolution won’t be for everyone as its slow burn can be tedious for those unwilling to dig deeper into the ruse. It’s definitely a heady first feature with many genre-tropes overlapping and merging together for an experience you cannot easily predict. Are there problems? Yes. Budget and inexperience can be ignored, though, when the project’s value overshadows technical shortcomings. I’d love to know exactly what is happening and discover the back story of the monster we never see—it doesn’t get scarier than letting our imaginations run—but there’s also appeal in the mystery. For all I know Moorhead and Benson have no answers either but that’s ok. Their success is in the ability to show us answers can exist. Why not let us play a part in creating them?