Resolution (2012): Drug Addiction, Rural Marginalization, the Pressures of Constructing a Narrative Identity
“I think it wants a story with an ending.”
Resolution is the third film on this list that I’ve already reviewed back in 2014 for my Indie Horror-thon, during which I reviewed my favorite (at the time) indie horror flicks. And for the third time, I’m just going to move right into my dissection of the film’s core themes; so check out my original review of the genre-bending psychological horror film here before continuing.
For our purposes, Resolution is damn near impossible to properly analyze without taking a look at its titular final act. So you’ve been warned: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Resolution follows a graphic designer in the city named Michael, who receives a troubling video in an email from his old best friend Chris that suggests that he may be addicted to meth again and on the verge of a violent breakdown (perhaps suicide). Michael decides to return to Chris one final time to force him to abstain from using drugs for seven days as a last-ditch effort to save him. Michael handcuffs an unwilling Chris to a radiator next to a mattress in order to force a cold-turkey drug detox.
Over this time period, Michael becomes increasingly uneased by suspicious happenings in the small town, which used to be a Native American settlement. Strange cryptic items are left for Michael to discover by an unknown source– first a book, then small photography film strips, later actual video films reels and VHS tapes. Each item contains small clues that he is being watched.
With the help of locals, Michael deciphers that whatever is stalking him and Chris is looking for a story– complete with a beginning, middle, and end.
Resolution starts out with a pretty simple premise. But it’s quickly elevated with edge-of-your-seat suspense. At first, Michael is only concerned with forcing his old pal Chris to confront his addiction and hopefully help him out of the hole he’s dug himself into– despite the pleas of Michael’s wife who sees his efforts as a lost cause.
Byron: How does an isolated tribesman in Ecuador know the difference between an alien, an angel, and a ghost?
Michael Danube: I have no idea.
Byron: He doesn’t, but he tells a story to make sense of the infinite.
Meanwhile, Chris is just a simple low-life townie shackled by his drug addiction and existential depression. At one point, Chris remarks “I never enjoyed life before I did drugs.” Although his behavior seems like an apparent cry for help, it becomes increasingly clear that Chris and Michael’s reunion was deliberately devised by something supernatural– something that perceives their lives as stories to be consumed.
Chris seems to represent a class of rural Americans who feel left behind by sudden shifts in American economy and culture. Resolution premiered four years prior to the 2016 election, which shed a glaring light on a large section of our populace that felt ignored and unheard. Chris, who has spent his entire life on the peripherals of society and feels abandoned by childhood friends like Michael who made something of their lives and split, is suddenly the object of an unseen deity’s attention. And it’s forcing Chris to reconcile his role in his current state as an addicted deadbeat.
It’s also probably not a coincidence that the stepping-off point of Chris and Michael’s story centers around Chris’ drug addition– as rural America was in 2012 and is still facing a substance abuse epidemic. Rural communities have been disproportionately affected by addiction as a result of growing economic inequality– which has resulted in increasing rates of poverty and unemployment. According to the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, treatment for addiction in rural communities is also much harder to obtain than in urban areas. On top of the lack of access to treatment options, rural Americans face stigma and misunderstandings about mental health.
Thus, it’s easy to imagine Chris’ story ending without the proverbial resolution commonly associated with good story-telling– with Chris killing himself instead.
Michael Danube: You know why Jimi Hendrix died? He didn’t have Mike Danube and a set of handcuffs to save his life.
It’s easy to liken Resolution to another subversive horror film released the same year: The Cabin in the Woods. Both films take place largely in a remote house in the woods, and both involve isolated characters trapped in a dangerous situation for the viewing pleasures of out-of-sight viewer(s). But while The Cabin in the Woods may be a more apt metaphor for the viewing expectations of us (horror movie watchers), Resolution feels more like reflection on the pressures of constructing one’s own narrative identity.
In the field of psychology, narrative identity is a theory that individuals form an identity by integrating life experiences into an ever-changing personal story of self. This sense of identity is constructed by our past, present, and imagined future and (ideally) provides us with a sense of purpose. In Resolution, the deity that twists and manipulates Chris and Michael’s lives to fit them into the mold of a good story seems like a fitting metaphor for the pressures we put on ourselves to construct our own compelling narrative identity.
Furthermore, this theory stresses the import of coherence on one’s narrative identity. For Chris, this coherence is not evident. There seems to be no events in his life that help to define his narrative identity, no overarching themes, and no cultural context to be gleaned. Until Michael arrives, Chris lacked reason or motivation to reflect on his narrative– where he went wrong, where he is now, where he’s going.
One of the seven constructs of personal identity narratives is coherent positive resolution, which is “the extent to which tensions dissolve, providing closure and a satisfying ending to a narrative.” This is where the deity comes in– only this time it is not for the benefit of the owner of the narrative identity, Chris.
In the final act, Michael’s determination to figure out what the mythological being wants out of Chris and Michael (a fruitless effort) leads to him helping Chris contextualize his own narrative identity. Through their conversation, Chris lays bare how his struggles with self-worth have affected his ability to form relationships– with Chris repeatedly referring to himself as a “piece of shit” while admitting that he had recently travelled out to the city to meet with a prostitute, with whom he talked all night, fully-clothed, before she freaked out and left.
In response, Michael admitted that he didn’t have the right to impede on Chris’ life and that his attempt at saving him was selfish in its own way– with Michael believing his efforts might give himself a sense of self-appointed significance. When Chris breaks down, he admits that he needs help and is finally willing to go to rehab (the perfect way to end a film about coherent positive resolution– if this not a horror movie). And the film ends with the deity angrily rejecting this ending.
In the seven years since I first watched Resolution, it’s revealed new layers of narrative depth with each viewing. Whether or not the creators, duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, intended for Resolution to draw so much from narrative identity theory is unclear. What is clear is that Resolution remains one of the most original horror films of the decade and an insightful look at how we perceive stories– cinematic stories and our own.