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The Returned, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

The Returned, Channel 4

The Returned, Channel 4

Low-key French thriller plumbs existential depths

Camille (Yara Pilartz) finds that returning from the dead brings its problems

"Maybe everything that dies someday comes back," Bruce Springsteen posited in "Atlantic City". The residents of the French Alpine village at the centre of The Returned may conclude that he had a point.  

The Returned (Les Revenants in the original French) might sound superficially as if it's the latest in the ongoing vogue for zombies which (along with a parallel strain of photogenic vampires) is exerting a stranglehold on the entertainment industry. Brad Pitt goes to war with a global zombie plague in the new movie World War Z, The Walking Dead needs no introduction, and we've had our own home-grown specimens in Being Human and In the Flesh.

People aren't devoured by killer ghouls, but the no-longer-dead are eating them away from the inside

What The Returned does differently is to look at it through the other end of the telescope. Rather than giving us yet another hysterical apocalyptic epidemic or a world where the undead share a flat and create their own jocular universe, a bit like a supernatural Monkees, this time the ex-dead are just as bereft and bewildered as the bereaved... or if you will, the unbereaved. The basic question it asks is, despite all the shock and grief surrounding the death of a loved one, would it really be better if they came back to life?

We watch as the question infiltrates itself into various households in this rather bleak, not-too-prosperous community, where it's often raining and shrouded in gloomy mountain mist. The soundtrack by Scots band Mogwai feels suitably eerie and detached.

This opening episode was subtitled "Camille", and followed what happened when Camille (Yara Pilartz), one of a group of children killed when their bus plunged off a mountain road four years earlier, suddenly reappeared at home, unable to explain what had happened. She was on the bus, then the next thing she knew she was by the dam above the village, and had to walk home. She's worried that she might have suffered "a coma or some neurological thing."

Her mother Claire (Anne Consigny) is struck rigid with shock, but once she's convinced it really is her daughter, she begins to accept it as a kind of miracle. Her father Jérôme (Frédéric Pierrot), a shell of a man now separated from Claire and regularly seen visiting Lucy the local hooker, looks stricken with despair. Her twin sister Léna - who has aged normally, while Camille hasn't - seems to spend most of her spare time in drinking contests with the boys down at the Lake Pub, and experiences a kind of bipolar response to Camille's return.

Yet it seems the bus crash victims are not the only "revenants". Simon (Pierre Perrier) died in 2002, as we learn when we see him looking at his own gravestone, but he's obsessed with finding Adèle, his former fiancée (Clotilde Hesme, pictured right). Victor (Swann Nambotin), a creepy young boy who attaches himself to a local nurse, wasn't in the crash but could have helped cause it. As for the elderly Mr Costa, the reappearance of a much younger woman who may be his dead wife drives him out of his mind.

People aren't being devoured by killer ghouls, but the no-longer-dead are eating them away from the inside instead. If that wasn't bad enough, the local serial killer has struck again after a long absence. Joie de vivre is in short supply.

Despite all the shock and grief surrounding the death of a loved one, would it really be better if they came back to life?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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