Review: The Returned (Les Revenants) / Cert: 15 / Director: Robin Campillo / Screenplay: Robin Campillo, Brigitte Tijou / Starring: Geraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccai, Frederick Pierrot, Victor Garrivier / Release Date: Out Now
Originally titled They Came Back, The Returned is the French feature film which inspired the imported series currently screening on C4 in the UK. Some critics have commented that the series suffers from an achingly slow pace and occasionally obscure and evasive narrative. God help them if they ever clap eyes on this original film version; it looks lovely and is sufficiently arty but at times it’s so slow and ponderous it’s in danger of grinding to a complete halt.
It all starts intriguingly enough with hundreds and hundreds of ‘the undead’ ambling through the streets of a small French town. But these aren’t slavering, brains-crazy zombies; they’re predominantly in their sixties, smartly-dressed and showing no noticeable signs of physical decay or agitation. The government gathers them together in shelters until they can be reintegrated into society but it soon becomes apparent that ‘the returned’ have lower body temperatures and are suffering from an acute aphasia which renders them unable to perform anything but the most simple tasks or interact in any meaningful way with those around them. One young couple are delighted to see their young son returned to the bosom of the family, the town’s elderly mayor tries to come to terms with the return of his wife Martha and a government official is eventually reunited with her lost husband.
The Returned isn’t remotely concerned with how its phenomenon actually happens and offers no explanation for why the dead have risen. The film, like the recent BBC series In the Flesh, is more interested in showing how the living cope with the return of their loved ones and, ultimately, how the deceased, contrary to appearances, really aren’t the people they were when they were alive and that miracles just don’t happen and you can never go back. In time ‘the returned’ start to display worrying tendencies – they rarely sleep, they congregate at night – and the film slowly (oh so slowly) builds a sense of creeping unease as the audience waits for the eruption of the sort of carnage they might normally expect from a zombie film. But the blood-letting never comes and the films ends in a frustratingly ambiguous but thoroughly European style.
Campillo's film possesses the same stately wistfulness as the TV series and whilst its leisurely pace may infuriate those who just want something to happen, it’s a refreshingly different and mature take on the ‘rising dead’ which asks a lot of intriguing questions about human nature and doesn’t always offer up answers we might be comfortable with. Intelligent, edgy and uncompromising, The Returned is a zombie film aimed at people who really don’t like zombie films. It could just have done with getting a bit of a move on here and there though.