Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
Directed by Jon Foy
"It's like a scene from The Twilight Zone,"says an anchor in Resurrect Dead's opening montage of news reports about the incomprehensible message spelled out in mysterious tiles found on city streets throughout the East Coast, Midwest, and a few South American cities since the 1980s. "Toynbee idea/in movie 2001/Resurrect Dead/on planet Jupiter"is the refrain on most of the tar-and-linoleum plaques, whose unknown creator three curious Philadelphians set out to find in Jon Foy's debut doc. Evoking investigators of UFO coverups and, more recently, 9/11 conspiracy theories, protag Justin Duerr and his partners seem for a long time to be grabbing at straws: a strange call-in on Larry King's show, a series of pirate shortwave radio broadcasts, and David Mamet's 1983 one-act 4AM are parsed for clues. But Justin's infectious, Ahab-and-the whale enthusiasm draws us into his search. Eventually, these and other far-fetched clues lead the trio to a South Philly address, and its reclusive resident, where Resurrect Dead shifts tones from a whodunit to something more morally charged.
The suspected tiler—competing theories notwithstanding—is not a clandestine tagger trying to protect his identity, Banksy-style, but rather a naïf artist using any and every available medium to transmit his sci-fi ideas about resurrecting humans in space. Driving the streets at night, he broadcasts via shortwave radio signal the very same message written on the tiles that he simultaneously embeds on city streets through a hole in his car's floorboards—the Toynbee tiler has tremendous outlaw appeal, despite his message's lunacy. When it becomes clear that the tiler isn't just reclusive, but incredibly paranoid and possibly unstable, Justin's ability to recognize this and abandon his probe makes for a moving and far more enigmatic ending than the anticlimactic reveal we'd expected. Unlike The Twilight Zone, Resurrect Dead retains the air of a surreal fable.
Opens September 2 at IFC Center