When I was asked to write a review on The Returned, I happily accepted. I did my research on the film and immediately groaned. Call me a blasphemer, but the zombie genre of horror is probably my least favorite right next to torture porn. Sure, there is the exception to the rule – Shaun of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, I’m even a fan of Fido, Pontypool, and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead.
I’m happy to say that Manuel Carballo’s The Returned is a welcomed entry into the list of well-made zombie flicks. As a true through and through fan of horror it’s exciting to see a broadening of the genre and while B-grade and comedic zombie flicks have run rampant, The Returned is a solid undead drama with a concrete script and two powerful actors that help carry the plot.
The concept is basic. In a post-Zombie world, a temporary cure has been found that allows zombies to become human again, becoming the titular returned. Kate is a lead researcher and physician for the returned and her music teacher husband Alex has been infected for six years. However, in a world becoming increasingly hateful towards the returned, and running low on the serum, things are becoming harder and harder for them to cope with.Kate and Alex, played by Emily Hampshire (Cosmopolis) and Kris Holden-Ried (Underwold: Awakening), are the key players of the film and are on the screen for a solid 90-percent of the movie, carrying the plot of the film on their shoulders. Luckily for Carballo, the two handled the job magnificently. Both are presented with real dramatic moments that are saturated in this horror fantasy world and handle these occasions with poise and grace. Moments that could have very easily fallen flat turned into tense and dramatic scenes because of Hampshire and Holden-Ried. Shawn Doyle is the weak link, playing Holden-Ried’s lifelong friend, mostly coming across stiff and unbelievable in his more vulnerable scenes but his scarce amount of screen time doesn’t do any long term damage to the film.
Manuel Carballo has handled both tense drama and horror before, with El Ultimo Justo and Exorcismus, and in his first major English release he manages to deliver in spades. Carballo creates a slow burn that is deep enough to hook the watcher and suck them in. It’s a zombie movie with almost no zombies. The drama is more about the relationship between mankind the undead kind, the tension is created almost exclusively around the zombies and not directly on them, the thrills are man made. It’s a zombie movie about people and Carballo dances around with his subject masterfully.
Where a lot of credit goes to Carballo and crew, it seems the real credit may belong to Hatem Khraiche for his script. Khraiche has done a number of short films and anthologies but this is his first full length and he delivers a stout horror drama that is gripping and engaging. With a concept that could have so easily failed, he takes it and runs with it. By creating a focal point and refusing to stray too far from the message or the characters, The Returned surpasses so many other wannabe zombie movies and really makes a stand for itself.
Some things are annoying. Unnecessary flashbacks of Kate and her parents pop up sporadically and the level of hatred that people have for the returned seems impractical and uncalled for but is perhaps a social allegory for the undeserving racism and sexism that still survive in society, or maybe it’s just a plot device.
It’s hard to even call The Returned a horror movie. It’s almost a flat-out drama save for the one little slice of unreality based on the idea of the undead. But it’s good. If this is a sign of things to come from Khraiche and Carballo then I’m excited for more to come.