Narratives – if realistically composed of life’s unexpected twists and roadblocks – don’t guarantee a clearly defined outcome; their accounts are subject to the biases of their storytellers. He who wields the proverbial conch controls our perception of characters and their acts. In Justin Benson’s and Aaron Moorhead’s Resolution, the conch is held by an unseen force that manipulates two men into facing the fabrication of their own lives wrought from ego, dependency, and failure. What starts as a straightforward story about one friend helping another reveals that even a benign act is subject to the shifting perspectives of storytelling manipulation.

Responsible family man Mike (Peter Cilella) receives a video chronicling the downward spiral of his drug-addicted friend Chris (Vinny Curran). The video reveals that Chris has been holed up in the woods, stoned out of his mind, talking to himself, and shooting a rifle at imaginary “birds”. Mike – aided by a map included with the transmission – travels to the remote site and finds Chris squatting in an abandoned building housed on a Native American reservation. Michael intends to save his friend from addiction, and, in a last-ditch effort to help him detox, chains Chris to the wall to help him “get clean.” While overseeing Chris’ unorthodox recovery, Michael begins receiving strange communication in the form of photographs, filmstrips, and videos from an unknown entity.

Resolution is a creepy, thought-provoking film that defies its simple cabin-in-the woods motif. The filmmaking team is more interested in subverting convention and story structure than indulging in familiar horror tropes. There’s an overarching sense of dread, and as the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Mike’s and Chris’ unresolved tale is being monitored by something otherworldly. Viewers are given clues throughout, and cues in the sound and visuals show that something is off kilter about this particular mountainous environment. Moorhead, also serving as the film’s cinematographer, chooses to shoot nearly everything as if looking over the shoulders of our protagonists. Having a possible supernatural participant-observer is an effective way of squeezing every ounce of paranoia out of the film’s premise.

Though Resolution is obviously a genre piece, the most unsettling moments aren’t classifiably horror, in any traditional sense. One troubling subplot involves visits from a duo of dangerous tweaking crack heads looking for a fix. Another shows a sleeping Chris moaning in his sleep, pleading over and over that he needs his drugs. While these moments don’t fail to invoke goose bumps, their horrors are rooted firmly in reality; they echo the plight of countless victims caught up in the rampant drug culture. The disturbing collections of photos and film footage left for Mike – records of the disastrous ends of people living in the surrounding mountains – tell their own complete stories. Mike is determined that he and Chris not end up just another tragic tale.

To Resolution’s benefit, it is never made clear what’s observing these men. There are allusions to a lost research group of researchers dabbling in the paranormal. Other references are made to dead drug addicts buried in the mountains, or “grey men” assigned by the government to unspecified tasks. Folklore is also a huge component, especially in the context of the setting on an American Indian reservation. Benson and Moorhead superbly utilize these converging myths and modes of storytelling, and their own film becomes a way to subvert the traditional three-act structure of a motion picture by offering the characters opportunities to escape.

Resolution is a riveting, claustrophobic film powered by its two leads and an offbeat sense of humor. At its core, it simultaneously challenges those who pass judgment on others they find weak, while providing a metaphor for how badly things can get if one continues on a path to self-destruction. Resolution defies the notions of fate and inevitability, as our protagonists are presented with choices throughout. The filmmakers reveal themselves as staunch self-determinists – as evident by an ironic last line of dialogue – when our heroes finally come face-to-face with their monstrous audience, in one maddeningly ambiguous climax.

– By Chris Hallock