Puzzles abound in Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles as three young Philadelphians attempt to solve a particularly interesting one that's drawn them together. In Philly, other major Midwest and Northeast cities, and as far down as South America, someone has placed colorful tiles in asphalt that all say the same basic message: Toynbee Idea/ In Movie 2001/ Resurrect Dead/ On Planet Jupiter. What does it mean and who is behind it? Justin Duerr, Steve Weinik, and Tim Lincecum lookalike Colin Smith try to find out as Jon Foy captures their every move.
The trio has been documenting and dissecting the tiles for years and Foy's film serves as both a springboard to finding the tiles' creator and a concise collective of the entire Toynbee Tile universe for hardcore enthusiasts and novices alike. Once Duerr & Co. bring the viewer up to date with the basics of the tiles and their various theories of the tiles' meaning, the amateur detectives follow up on the most significant leads to entertaining results. Efforts to contact a neighborhood recluse with the help of some local eccentrics gets them somewhere, as do various archival newspaper clippings, a short wave radio convention, internet communications, and a one act David Mamet play that hits on multiple hot spots of tile lore, despite the playwright's prior insistence that he invented the dialogue.
Foy presents the quest and its relevant information in classic "whodunit" style. The trio are knowledgeable of their subject yet patient and caring in relaying their thoughts and findings. The Toynbee Tiles are clearly important to them and their enthusiasm in cracking the case is a joy to witness. With each new nugget and clue, the mystery inches closer to being solved, though the tension and excitement of the unknown remains elevated. Few narrative films are this engaging and well-made, and for a first-time filmmaker (who financed the work by cleaning houses and taught himself film scoring to create a hauntingly good soundtrack) covering such an obscure subject, Foy has made a modern classic.