With Channel 4’s French zombie TV series The Returned now over until it is resurrected for series 2 next year it is the perfect time to visit the shows original source material a cult 2004 French film known as Les Revenants, They Came Back or The Returned.
Written and directed by Robin Campillo the movie shares many similarities in its central premise as the TV version however its unique take on the zombie genre containing no blood and gore blended with its combination of realistic setting and elements with an unnerving and moving dreamlike quality set it apart not only from the adaptation but most other horrors.
Opening with the return of 13,000 recently deceased people into a small French village who wander out of the cemetery and straight into the town, the council and mayor meet to discuss what can be done to integrate these mysteriously reanimated members of society back into every day life.
With many families distressed and distraught over the reappearance of their deceased loved ones the town tries its best to understand and cope with the masses of living dead setting up a refugee camp to house them as the logistics of what is to be done are discussed.
As the living start to take back the dead the story focuses on a couple taking back their son, the elderly mayor and his wife and a health official Rachel (Géraldine Pailhas) and her husband Mathieu (Jonathan Zaccaï) a member of the undead who government worker Gardet (Frédéric Pierrot who plays Jérôme in the TV show) has taken a special interest in.
As the retuned try to return to normal life it seems they find it harder than it first appeared and as research uncovers more troubling facts about these reanimated townsfolk the living become increasingly suspicious and scared of who they have let into their homes.
Although the film dives straight into its main set up which is that across the world over 2 hours over 70 million deceased from the last 10 years have come back to life the movie moves at a much slower pace than most horrors concerning itself much more with the real life consequences of such a strange and life changing event not only on society as a whole but on the individuals whose friends and families are now once again alive.
Beautifully filmed and packed with perfect performances it is this brilliant combination of the unreality of the event merged with the realistic reaction that works so well making The Returned more akin to sci-fi movies such as Alien Nation and District 9 as well as the spectacular BBC zombie series In The Flesh rather than the actual adaptation of The Returned which is not only much more violent but has a much stronger supernatural side.
During the entire course of the film you are unsure of the zombies intentions making it all the more unsettling when more is revealed about them. The fact that they don’t sleep yet pretend to could be seen as a desperate attempt to blend in to society or something much darker and the duplicity of the returned and distrust of the living runs right through the film as the main characters internally struggle with wanting to embrace and except this miraculous event while being fearful of what is really happening.
Although many may be frustrated by the slow pace and overall ambiguity of the film it is much more satisfactory in its ending than the TV show has been so far and it is the emphasis on the devastating and disturbing emotional impact that sets it so far apart in a genre obsessed with the physical horror of the dead coming back.
It is plain to see why The Returned was adapted into a TV show as the wonderful and original concept has so much potential for expansion however Robin Campillo’s movie is a must see not only for fans of the series but for horror movie lovers looking for a thought provoking poignant picture that proves there is still innovative new life and ideas to be found in zombie movies.