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TV review: Channel 4's French drama The Returned
TV Review: The Returned
French supernatural drama, adapted from the 2004 film Les Revenants (aka They Came Back), about a small town where various long-dead members of the community return to life...
It's impossibly to pinpoint anything irredeemably bad, but most of the storylines weren't as engrossing as the central one about the return of teenager Camille (Yara Pilartz), and a few reactions to seeing a loved-one return from the dead rang hollow.
The scenery was beautiful (they mainly film in the city of Annecy in Haite-Savoie) and the music by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai really maintained a haunting tone throughout.
It's remarkable to have a French-language drama on primetime UK television, but things have been headed that way for awhile so I'm glad Channel 4 took the plunge. Some of the best modern horror's been coming out of France (À l'intérieur, Martyrs) and highbrow audiences have already been enjoying Euro crime thrillers like Spiral and The Killing, so it makes perfect sense to bring subtitled drama to the masses.
The fact The Returned concerns "zombies" is maybe enough to draw wider interest, so I'm hopeful this premiere's mood and intelligence counteracted any superficial disappointment over the lack of Walking Dead-style action and gore.
The Returned isn't really a zombie drama, see -- it's more a supernatural 'what if?' story like a serialised Twilight Zone episode. Its French origin also gives is more of an otherworldly feel for British audiences, too, as everything's so restrained and it allows itself time to build a thick atmosphere. Of course, tolerances will vary and some will already declare it pretentious and inert, but as first episodes go I thought this was a spellbinding hour with huge potential.
The concept is so brilliant there are coincidentally other versions of the 2004 film it's adapted from; most notably BBC Three's In the Flesh and the upcoming US drama Resurrection. It's fascinating whenever the same broad idea occurs to different writers around the same time.
In The Returned, an Alpine town is the unlikely setting for miracles when dead townsfolk suddenly return home unaware they've been dead. We mainly see things from the perspective of Camille, a young girl who was killed with 37 other people when their school bus careened off the edge of a cliff. Four years later she returns home, to the shock of her mother Claire (Anna Consigny), father Jérôme (Frédéric Pierrot) and identical twin sister Lena (Jenna Thiam)--who, in a smart twist, isn't so identical now she's had time to age.
But there's also a small boy who "adopts" a local nurse; a young man who died 10 years ago who returns to find his fiancé’s moved on; and the wife of a now-elderly man who died 30-years ago, whose resurrection causes him to go crazy.
The other stories weren't presented as succinctly as Camille's, causing moments of confusion, but each is fascinating in its own right and will inevitably be explored over the next seven episodes. I can't wait.
Beautiful, compelling, haunting, disturbing. Good foreign dramas are always unpredictable and mesmerising, and thankfully The Returned's first-class premise and performances make the subtitles easy to overlook.
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