Ambiguity can oftentimes be the very thing on which a film rises or falls. And in case of the indie horror entry 'Resolution,' it serves as not only an element through which healthy debate regarding meaning and intent may be generated, but it also serves as the defining characteristic of a movie richly appointed with familiar horror tropes. The effort co-directed by writer Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead made waves on the festival circuit because of its ingenious use of the aforementioned ambiguity woven into the narrative, as well as the effective use of atmosphere, terrific acting, and plenty of tonal shifts which help to make the otherwise pervasive sense of dread feel like something the audience wants to return to and learn more about, rather than escape from.
Like most good horror films of late, 'Resolution' is difficult to pin down because the tonality of the project is such that, although it is constantly generating a great deal of suspense and atmosphere, it is not the only thing the filmmakers have up their sleeve. In fact, with its story of one incredibly devoted (albeit for selfish reasons) man forcibly detoxing his meth addicted, gun-loving friend by chaining him to the abandoned cabin he's been squatting in, the movie could have just as easily been an examination of friendship and the lengths one person would go to pull another from the precipice of doom.
To its great credit, however, the movie only uses that idea of addiction and friendship as the set up, putting two lifelong friends, Michael (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinny Curran), in an already tense and potentially hostile situation and then turning that up a notch as Michael slowly begins to realize that someone or (as the film suggests) something is watching his and Chris' every move. The suggestion of voyeurism begins innocuously enough with pop-ins being made by Chris' gradually more threatening drug dealing buddies. That sense escalates after Charles (Zahn McClarnon), the owner of the cabin, gives them a week to get cleaned up and clear out before he has to do something drastic. Things begin to get progressively weirder as Michael encounters members of a religious cult, is awoken in the middle of the night to an escapee from a mental institution up the road staring at him through the cabin window, and, finally, a German professor who has been living in that isolated area for about three decades now. All the while, 'Resolution' drops additional hints of supernatural things and ritual slayings, which just add to the general spooky atmosphere in which the audience unwittingly finds itself.
Later, Michael stumbles upon some old recordings depicting violent encounters with people who lived in the area decades earlier. As Michael gradually begins to find more and more recordings, Benson's script briefly allows the audience a chance to question the likelihood of Michael's luck, until it becomes clear he's not so much stumbling upon the recordings, as he's being given them; at one point, waking to find one next to his head with no clear sign of how it got there. Did I mention that the recordings gradually stop being about other people, and eventually feature footage of him and Chris, with, again, no clear sign of how the footage was captured?
The most intriguing element of 'Resolution,' then, isn't in the spookiness it's able to achieve through a frightfully unsettling series of events that are oddly suggestive of society's present concerns with things like privacy and the paranoia generated by the ubiquity of recording equipment at anyone's disposal, but rather in the film's ability to make the impetus for Michael and Chris' reunion – i.e., Chris' life-threatening addiction to drugs – the actual main concern of the characters. Again, Benson's script manages to convey the importance of the men's friendship by filling the moments between the increasingly hostile unease with some much-needed levity, and an examination of both character's motivations. Chris isn't simply some drug-addled loon with an inclination toward guns; he's actually quite intelligent and well spoken and makes a good argument as to why he should be left alone. Meanwhile, Michael, the apparent protagonist and would-be hero of the film winds up being painted as something of a selfish jerk (his too nice wife is pregnant at home, while he's on this excursion), whose only real motivation is the satisfaction of once again saving his friend's life.
There's a level of character analysis in 'Resolution' that's generally unheard of in most horror films, and while it augments the interplay between Michael and Chris, it renders much of the rest of the film incredibly opaque. At one point, the film seems to be doing a meta analysis of the genre á la 'Cabin in the Woods,' but rather than devolving into a clever and direct send up of the best the genre has to offer, Benson's script goes in the other direction and turns the focus on the viewers and audiences of such fare, tasking his characters and those watching with figuring out what it all means through the implicit knowledge of horror movies and tropes.
In the end, the claim to fame of 'Resolution' may be that its ambiguity leaves it open to a myriad of differing interpretations. While that is a decent way of looking at things, the film also features some terrific character work that helps to sell a familiar notion, and make it somehow feel more unique.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Resolution' comes as a 50GB Blu-ray disc + DVD combo pack. The Blu-ray contains several previews beforehand that can all be skipped to go directly to the main menu.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer on 'Resolution' makes good use out of all the various "film stocks" used in the production of the movie. The primary focus of the film is on Michael and Chris, and those scenes are filmed in a more traditional manner. However, there is also plenty of scenes where it is mean to look like 8mm and grainy video footage has been dropped in to help set up the increasingly bizarre events that signal the film's third act. While almost everything was shot on the same format and later transformed, it difference in film stock is intended to be more atmospheric and indicative of recent trends in the horror genre, then an artistic or stylistic choice. To that end, however, the picture comes off looking quite nice.
For the most part, the image looks pristine, and aside from some deliberate choices in lighting, the film presents a very detailed, brightly colored image. Detail isn't as high as it could be, but that might take away some of the inherent qualities of 'Resolution' and the way it presents itself. Still, there is plenty of fine detail to go around; faces in close-up tend to reveal quite a bit, and the image is particularly interested in presenting small objects in the background, as well as making sure the environment as a whole is represented clearly.
Meanwhile, the film has a fairly even, neutral color palette that consists mostly of earth tones – browns and tans – but every so often there will be a bright red or blue (as we see in the way Chris dresses) that stands out and looks very vibrant and clean. Additionally, though the film seems to have been shot using as much natural light as possible, the contrast levels are generally fairly high. There are a few scenes where the black levels seem to swallow the detail to some degree, but the brighter, more detail-rich exterior scenes in the film generally even these out.
Overall, it's a slightly better than average image on the disc that winds up being equal parts deliberate and a result of the limits of the production.
'Resolution' has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that actually delivers incredibly clear sounding dialogue and sound effects through what is an otherwise eerily silent mix that's devoid of horror movie clichés like a rising score that indicates to the viewer when he or she should be scared. As a result, the mix tends to feel a little one note, but it actually does a terrific job of using the actors' dialogue and the occasional sound effect to great use. There are plenty of examples of directionality on the mix, and that actually serves to make the film feel more atmospheric and gives the viewer a terrific sense of space.
Additionally, in the absence of a score, 'Resolution' actually has to utilize what can't be heard as an element all on its own. The emptiness of the cabin, and the frightening stillness of the woods around it help to make the atmosphere of the film feel all the more real and strange and foreboding. There isn't a lot to the soundtrack here, but it is a deliberate move creating a unique sounding product that is used quite well.
Outtakes and Unseen Footage
'Resolution' is the kind of movie that not only understands the genre it is in, but also understands the knowledge the intended audience has of said genre, and uses that to its great advantage. As filmmakers, Benson and Moorhead have proven that sometimes a collaborative effort can be more distinctive and effective than if a relatively inexperienced director struck out on his or her own. If anything, seeing this film will make you curious to see what both filmmakers do next – either together or on a solo adventure. Besides being an interesting movie you'll likely want to watch several times over, this Blu-ray features a nice array of special features that prove the filmmakers don't take themselves too seriously, but are also capable of delivering some intelligent insight into the process of making a movie. All of this, along with good picture and sound make 'Resolution' recommended viewing.