Last year’s World War Z looked for a cure to the zombie outbreak. Manuel Carballo’s The Returned sorta picks up where Brad Pitt’s hair left off, with a temporary treatment for the zombie virus in existence and mankind saved, for the time being. The film looks at the effects of living amongst infected individuals who, without their daily dose of protein, would become bloodthirsty numbskulls. It’s a refreshing take on the zombie genre, one that’s much more about emotional bummers and suspenseful twists rather than gore to the wall.
The film is set in present day, but in an alternate reality where a zombie virus struck civilization back in the 1980s. The title refers to people who were struck by the pandemic that were saved by science before they started biting throats off. Now decades later, there are rumors that the government regulated supply of the protein doses are dwindling, and an honest to goodness cure is nowhere in sight.
Kate (Emily Hampshire) is a doctor who specializes in treating patients coming out of their zombie state. The “returned” unit of the hospital ward, if you will. Her boyfriend is Alex (Kris Holden-Ried), a guitar teacher who six years ago was afflicted with the virus. Thanks to a hook-up at her hospital, Kate is able to illegally supply Alex with protein doses no problem, while stockpiling extras in case government regulations spin outta control.
A lot of doors for discussion are opened up by the film’s look at prejudice against victims, the haves and have nots, and how far someone would go to save their own, while cheating other sick people out of vital medicine. There’s also allusions to the AIDS epidemic, healthcare, and government control of medicine. Seriously, The Returned alludes to the caboodle.
The tone never gets too contemplative though. Carballo maintains a balanced shade of tension throughout, with some jump scares and guts thrown in for good measure. It can even be debated whether The Returned is a zombie film at all. If I had to try to pigeon hole it, I’d call it a romantic thriller wrapped around a rotting corpse.
While the sheer level of ideas that The Returned leaves up to interpretation is impressive, the onscreen chemistry between Kate and Alex is pretty flat. They share a few intimate moments together, but nothing that ever feels palpable. As individual characters they’re perfectly fine, the actors are terrific. Holden-Ried gets perhaps the most emotionally tangible moment, as he tells two of their long-time friends that he’s one of the returned. It’s reminiscent of folks disclosing that they have the AIDS virus, or coming out of the closet even. It’s a fine moment and Holden-Ried nails it.
The Returned is an interesting film bursting with ideas and subtle ways of addressing them. It does rush the plot twists a bit during the film’s final act, which leads to a lack of an emotional punch. But I think it’ll resonate with a lot of people. Definitely check it out if you have the chance.
The Returned hits select theaters and VOD February 4 – Valentine’s Day awwwww!