– Summary –
Director : Manuel Carballo
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Kris Holden-Ried, Emily Hampshire, Claudia Bassols, Shawn Doyle, Melina Matthews, Paulino Nunes, Jamie Lyle, Paul Anthony.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: After a zombie virus has infected mankind, wiping out millions. However, researchers have discovered a serum that prevents the virus from taking hold, allowing potential zombies to remain human, and live normal lives. However, the serum is running out, and as tensions rise throughout the world, one doctor and her husband must fight to survive before he too becomes a zombie.
What we think : I know, you’re thinking “Zombie Apocalypse”, right? Wrong. The Returned takes the zombie genre and flips it on its head – the tension of turning into a flesh-eating killing machine is ever-present, but the film avoids the genre’s traditional gore and horror (for the most part) and keeps this story a more low-key dramatic affair that you might expect. As a work of science fiction, and as a work of dramatic science fiction, it’s actually really good. Worth a watch, just keep your expectations in check. This ain’t World War Z.
The last few years have proven to be something of a boon to the zombie genre flick, following the dead-n-gone concept’s revival in Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic 28 Days Later. Cut to today, and classic horror monsters lead the way in much of our cultural television and film viewing – vampires, werewolves and fairies on True Blood, zombies on The Walking Dead, and incestuous sex, butchery and dwarfism on Game Of Thrones. Brad Pitt’s blockbusting World War Z surprised everyone in 2013 by actually being a good film, while projects such as Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, the Twilight Saga, and Let The Right One In keep the mythical underbelly of human horror bubbling along in the periphery of cultural relevance. The Returned features zombies too; albeit, the film has a tone more similar to Soderberg’s Contagion than Boyle’s 28 Days Later – The Returned features “fast zombies”, although the focus is less on the creatures themselves and more on the social allegory the zombie concept allows. The Returned is the “thinking person’s” apocalypse thriller, determined to provide grist to the intellect than skin crawling, terror-fueled excitement of the kind you might be used to. Is it worth a look, though, just to watch people wax lyrical about zombies and their potential extermination of the human race? Read on to find out!
Plot synopsis courtesy IMDb: In a world where a deadly zombie virus has infected mankind, a single cure has been found. The cure, a treatment called the “Return Protein” which stays the effects of the virus in its host. With daily injections, the “Returned” are able to live as though they were never bit, despite the virus still coursing through their veins. When it is discovered that the protein stock is running low, chaos hits the streets. Returned who run out of the protein turn to zombies and wreak havoc, protestors turn to murderers as they try to rid the streets of the returned, and right in the middle of it all are Alex (Kris Holden-Ried) and Kate (Emily Hampshire). Kate is a leading doctor in the field of zombie virus’ and Alex is a musician with a dark secret, he is a Returned. As death and fear run rampant, Alex’s secret becomes known and his dosage runs low, he and Kate must fight for a chance to live before he becomes a zombie.
The concept of zombies isn’t new, we all know that. Film-makers have
explored strip-mined gangbanged pillaged the concept of zombies, and their allegorical properties, for at least the last 30 years; The Returned supplants the idea of man-made biological or auspicious monkey-borne viral threat with a wholly human, out-of-control terror that cannot be tamed without lethal force. In forgoing the more obvious elements of a zombie film, it reduces the story to a core idea of survival, and how we might act when potential apocalyptic destruction looms large. Sure, most of the time Hollywood projects this destruction through asteroids or alien invaders, but when the destruction is caused by us, by humans, things become more emotionally hard hitting. I mentioned Steven Soderberg’s Contagion in the opener, and I think if The Returned could be compared to any film, it would be that one. Like Contagion (which I felt lacked impetus or cohesion), The Returned is decidedly character driven, with much of the Big Action occurring off screen, relayed via television and radio broadcasts. This not only reduces the budget (which would help a filmmaker maintain sharp focus on story and character, instead of effects and being extravagant) but it also keeps the unbalanced, highly tense plot from veering too far off course.
The Returned revolves around the fact that the infected people are already zombies, only the symptoms are being treated by medicine provided by the Government; when the medicine runs out, the affected people will find themselves becoming full-blown zombies, and irreversibly remaining so. The script delves into humanity’s inhumanity to one another through the actions of Alex and Kate, and their friends Jacob (Shawn Doyle) and Amber (Claudia Bassols), the latter of whom are concerned for Alex’s inherent Returned status and how the imminent cessation of serum may affect them all – a plot device with Jacob and Alex, in particular, sets in motion a devastating chain of events that will resound through the latter stages of the movie. The screenplay, by Hatem Khraiche, a Spanish writer on films like Murder 3 and The Hidden Face, gives the characters time to marinate in the story, to grow and become real people for the viewer; having said that, the performances of the cast, the majority of whom are all solid, lift the script even further into being effective.
While the film’s slow-burn narrative might be contradictory to our expectations of a zombie film, the effectiveness of the performances is only enhanced further by Manual Carballo’s deft direction. This is a man with a sure hand behind the camera, and when you consider he only has a handful of directorial projects on his CV, this film is all the more impressive. Carballo crafts the movie with a steady, effective eye, although a major misstep in replaying flashbacks to Kate’s family tragedy (her parents were both affected by the zombie virus) robs crucial moments in the devastating conclusion of most of their impact. Generally, however, the film looks, sounds, and is enormously successful in executing the story it has to tell. The film does open with hints at it being a “bigger” film than it ends up being – the opening credits play over young Kate’s parents turning into zombies, a viciously violent sequence that ends with blood and fleeing, but the rest of the film is extremely low key by comparison – but some of the decisions made by the characters, especially towards the end of the film (a shouty phone call between Kate and Alex, which serves to blockade a potential resolution to the plot by revealing crucial information at the most inopportune moment, is a case in point) border on ludicrous.
The cast all provide the film with realism and gravitas; for a bunch of actors with zero star power to their names, they really make this film. Kris Holden-Ried, who looks so much like Coldplay’s Chris Martin I had to recheck the credits to make sure it wasn’t, is the afflicted Alex, who goes through the film coming to terms with his imminent turning from a human, into a creature of insatiable fleshy appetite. While Holden-Ried is solid enough, his character doesn’t quite have the emotive impact as his on-screen counterpart, Emily Hampshire, as his wife. Hampshire is the emotional heart of the film; she leads the way in both providing the plot with momentum, through her association with the hospital treating the afflicted and providing the serum, and through her eyes-on-the-world understanding of the horror which is about to unfold. Where I felt sometimes Holden-Ried was occasionally a little amateurish in his performance, Hampshire is wonderful in contrast. Smaller roles to Shawn Doyle, who has one of the films’ crucial scenes to carry almost entirely on his own as Jacob, and Claudia Bassols, as Jacob’s wife Amber, are important and well handled by the actors involved, yet at times I felt disassociated from these people due to their lack of consistency within the film. It’s a minor thing, but worth noting.
The Returned offers a more cerebral take on zombies and the End of Days at their hands. With a few nice twists, a couple of shock swerves into brainfartville, and a resolution that reeks of somebody watching The Mist once too often (and to a much lesser result, I must admit), The Returned will provide a pleasantly diverting essay on what it means to be human, and what it takes to survive. It’s low budget and low key, yet intimate and powerful all at the same time, and while I’d say it’s probably not on a lot of folks’ radar, that would do this film a disservice. You should at least give The Returned a chance, because I think if you do, you may just find yourself surprised at how affecting it really is. Just don’t expect many explosions. A few headshots, yeah, but no explosions.
They’re zombies, after all.