How would you react if, years after they’re dead and buried, a loved one showed up on your doorstep? No rotting flesh or maggot-ridden eye-sockets either, just looking as dapper as they always did. Would you welcome them in for a sandwich or flee in terror? The eight-part French supernatural series The Returned poses these questions. In the press release its called a “zombie” show, but judging by the first episode, “Camille,” it’s basically the anti-Walking Dead.
Years after a tragic school bus accident took the lives of over 30 students, a small mountainside town is still reeling from the loss. Then one day, a handful of them return home just as they were on the day they died. The story focuses on Camille, a young girl who believes it’s still the day of the accident, while also introducing many other characters. Some of them are welcomed home despite the parents’ disbelief, while others are refused entry by family members haunted by grief.
One older gentleman reacts to his daughter’s return in an especially psychotic manner. His actions are proof that The Returned isn’t going to be all grief counseling and family hugs. The show explores some dark psychological territory. Coinciding with the resurrection is a grisly murder that may be connected to all these reborn dead kids. Then there’s the mystery of Victor, a young boy who wasn’t on the bus, but may be the catalyst for all this madness.
The blending of supernatural and grounded drama makes for interesting television, and these elements are elevated by writer/director Gregory Crewdson’s sparse approach to the material. Visually and tonallyThe Returned resembles Let the Right One In – so if you enjoyed that film’s dreary ambiance you’ll settle nicely into this show’s similar atmosphere. There are lingering shots of isolating landscapes that border on tedious for my taste, but they do help lend the show an other-worldly flavor.
Crewdson understands the value of silence as well. The reserved dialogue in The Returned matches the dreary landscapes. One scene in particular, in which Camille greets her sister after returning, uses a series of knocks rather than dumb-downed exposition to express the shock and confusion of her older sister. It’s really engaging, intelligent horror.
People sick of zombies shouldn’t be turned off by the concept of The Returned. This isn’t about mowing down the undead and graphic displays of flesh-eating. This is about the vast bummers of grief and the mystery of one creepy little boy. Since it’s such a short run (eight episodes) you can be sure every minute is going to matter, so pay attention, pal, and you will be rewarded. Really soak in the amazing opening credits sequence too – I have a feeling it contains some clues.
The Returned premieres on Halloween on the Sundance Channel at 9pm ET.