Genre: Drama / Horror
IMDB Rating: 5.9 / 10
Every now and then a movie comes along that looks so interesting that you can’t help but want to watch it. When it comes to zombie movies I would say I’m somewhat of a Romero-esque purist: zombies must be slow-moving, incapable of higher thought, attack in hordes, and kill mercilessly and without humour. Then again, I loved Warm Bodies (even my unromantic soul was not untouched by the fact he came back from the dead for the girl he loved), so I thought I’d give The Returned a try. Sadly this is a very good premise that is terribly executed, and you are soon wading through so many different forms of social commentary that you’ll need to put on some boots for fear of getting bogged down in the mud.
The world has been ravaged by a viral outbreak, turning those exposed into mindless, murderous legions of the undead. Unlike most movies that follow this basic premise, however, The Returned takes place after the outbreak in a world that is remarkably more controlled and sanitary than most other movies or The Walking Dead would lead us to anticipate. Clever little humans have managed to extract a cure from the initial batch of people who were infected. This protein, if injected into recently bitten individuals who have yet to completely succumb to the infection, will block the virus from wreaking havoc on the body. These people are known as the Returned.
The movie follows the story of Alex, a Returned music teacher, and Kate, a doctor who has helped pioneer how the Returned are dealt with medically. So long as Alex takes his daily injection, the virus will have no effect on him and he can lead a normal, if somewhat muted and indie, life. The two of them are as blissfully happy as any morose couple can be, and Kate doesn’t care if her boyfriend carries in him a virus that, if activated, will lead him to see her as a light lunch. Oh, what a time to be alive!
But not everyone in the world is as accepting of the Returned. Since the virus cannot be cured, only kept in check, every Returned is a carrier for the virus. Equally, should one of the Returned forget to take their medication, the virus will activate and possibly cause another outbreak. Because of this, some members of society view them as ticking time bombs and want to have them eradicated.
The problem is that these people might have a point – the protein used to create the injections can only be sourced from an already infected individual. Since the world has been so good at making sure the virus doesn’t spread, the source of the protein is running dry and the stockpile of injections running low. With scientists unable to create a successful synthetic protein, time is running out for Alex. What follows is a torrid dramatic escape from the law as friendships and relationships are tested, parents are driven to the limits, the darkness that lurks in all of us is examined, and the valid question of whether or not fat people should be allowed to thrive in society due to the fact that they may be visually unsightly is raised.
Since this is, at least nominally, a zombie movie, one would expect to be inundated with gore and people whose faces are falling off. Sadly, you won’t be. If you see two people actually turn into zombies it’s a lot, and even then there’s no real attempt at make up. All you’re going to be treated to are extras with a bit of fake blood thrown willy nilly across their bodies while they themselves make overly forced jerking motions at the camera. Not impressed movie, not impressed.
But why sacrifice the on-screen joy that is a well put-together zombie, you may ask? That’s because the film feels that it’s far more important that you be treated to nearly two hours of dull, muted scenery. I feel the zombie apocalypse must have wiped out the power grid and we’re still trying to recover, because the mood lighting in this film is something else entirely. Then there’s the endless barrage of apartments and homes with utterly impractical furnishings and even more dull colour palettes, a hospital that is so dark and gloomy it’s remarkable that anyone recovers, and an inexplicably damp parking garage that really should have its plumbing checked.
What I assume the makers behind this gem were going for was atmosphere that elicits a sense of gloomy despair in its audience, but all it actually manages to achieve is an ongoing feeling of mind-numbing boredom.
Frustration. Frustration is the main emotion that this movie will bring out in you. The reason for that is, at its core, the movie has a really good premise that could have been put to far better use. There could have been a little more action, characters that you actually gave a crap about, all those things. Instead you’re subjected to being hit by social commentary in the same way Miley Cyrus comes in like a wrecking ball.
Now, any zombie movie worth its salt is going to explore some social issues. All of Romero’s movies did, but they’re nice and subtle so they don’t bog down what’s going on, and instead you walk away and start to think about what you’ve just watched and slowly explore the film’s inner nuances. Not so with The Returned, oh no. There’s the stigma surrounding the Returned and how, since the virus is totally controllable thanks to modern medicine, they shouldn’t be treated differently to any other human being since it can only be contracted through contact with infected blood. Not through hand holding, not through sharing the same eating utensils. You get the picture. And then, to rub salt in an already exposed wound, the Returned have to come out to their friends and family. More open-minded individuals will realise that this doesn’t change who their loved ones are, and some have always secretly known. Others will believe it’s a curse from God and that they are somehow being punished. Again, you get the picture.
I’m not a bigot, and the stigma surrounding people with HIV and the ongoing battles against homophobia are by no means little issues that don’t deserve our attention, but this movie doesn’t deal with them in any useful way. They’re just kind of thrown out there while the tepid action tries to plod along to the finishing line. If you’re going to build your story around these kinds of issues, you actually have to do something with them that doesn’t end down the barrel of a gun.
But we’re not done yet. With all of these dull and useful things going on, The Returned then attempts an ending that could only have been inspired by The Mist. Really now. What the people behind this movie have done is bad enough, but please don’t try to drag other, much greater, movies down with you. AND THEN, and this is my ultimate pet peeve and the breaking of an unspoken rule for the genre, the characters actually refer to the Returned as ‘zombies’. You just don’t do that. That’s Zombie Movie 101 knowledge right there.
The only way I can think to succinctly describe this movie is this: it feels like it was made by people (and we have all met these people) who only read books from the canon of English literature and only watch pretentious foreign arthouse films – not because they want to, but because that’s what pompous people are meant to do. In summary, don’t watch this – it fails in its attempt to be a thoughtful social commentary, and abysmally as a zombie film.
My Final Rating: 2 / 10
Buy The Returned at Amazon.com