Recovering from the loss of loved ones can be a trying experience; one that often takes years and results in many life changes. The Returned offers up the question: what would happen if that person came back just the way they were when they passed?
The Returned starts innocuously enough with a bus full of tweens heading on a field trip. Our main character is Camille, and she’s tuning out on her earbuds when the bus swerves off of the road and plummets off a hillside.
Shortly after, we ‘re taken four years later to the present day, where Camille appears out of the woods and walks home at night setting off a chain of strange events including electrical shortages and a quickly decreasing level of water in the town dam.
The Returned is often called a zombie show due to the return of the living dead, but there is minimal gore (provided by flashbacks and the return of a deposed serial killer), and no biters here. Whatever you do, do not confuse this with the tepid and glossy A&E remake.
What The Returned lacks in gore and traditional zombie lore, it makes up for in raw, chilling emotional earnestness. Every character we meet is impactful in their emotions, even though a great deal of it is subdued.
Camille’s father Jerome is a surly, antagonistic pessimist at a support group for the parents of the children in the accident; though he’s a negative spirit, he makes it obvious he still needs the support group, no matter how he lashes out.
Camille’s twin Lena is shaken with facing not just her sister, but her former pre-pubescent self and her lost life after their parents lost Camille.
Wait, did you not catch that these were also twins separated by death? Their twin bond (which has to be real!) is severed and it doesn’t help that Lena was supposed to be on that bus too.
Camille isn’t even the creepiest dead kid on this show, that honor goes to Victor. This kid actor (Swann Nambotin) may be a powerhouse in the making or just be very good at receiving great direction from directors Frédéric Mermoud and Fabrice Gobert.
Victor is simultaneously adorable, charming, unsettling, and sometimes terrifying, and he barely says any words at all during the first season. His blank yet affectionate gaze lulls us into wanting to protect him, but he may be holding more secrets and mysteries than any other character on the show.
Speaking of mysteries, this show holds its cards close to the vest, never giving a full explanation to the occurrences plaguing this town. A central mystery involving the dam flooding the town in the past and its disappearing water in correlation with the growing number of returned is woven through the season, but quite honestly, it never makes you miss that knowledge, as the emotional ramifications of the series are more than enough to deal with.
The big statement of the show is its handling of the balance of life and death. What does death mean to us?
When a serial killer comes back from the dead to kill again, and his victim doesn’t die, what is the nature of the act. When a woman is attacked, fiercely defends herself by stabbing her assailant, only to be stabbed repeatedly and continue to live, how deep is the violation.
Would you invite your past back into your life, or would you rather set your life on fire. Is a life worth continuing, knowing that you’re already dead, that your life has been gone, past, and moved on.
The show makes you question the value of life and death with sympathetic spectres in the form of the returning dead. The larger question it makes us ask is, who is really dead?
With evidence that there have been returned dead previously, shown to us in a flashback, how do we know when someone is actually dead? We’re presented with multiple characters who have symbolically died in addition to those who have been buried, but we are made to question, what makes them alive and could they not have been dead all along, the walking dead among us.
The Returned brings indie film sensibilities to a beautifully shot and atmospheric aesthetic. The lush cinematography lends to the engrossing emotions of the show, with eerie long shots that unsettle and mid shots and closeups that draw out the emotional impact on the characters.
The score and music provided by post rock band Mogwai lend to the eerie atmosphere.
Spoiler alert, at the end of the eight-episode first season which is on Netflix, we find out that the dead are planning a war on the living for the sins of the past. Lines are drawn and sides chosen. Police officers are vanished.
Season two premieres in the U.S. on Sundance Channel appropriately on Halloween (today!).