Sundance Channel’s The Returned (Thursdays, 9/8C) is a French series (I know! Subtitles!) that is built around the return, years later, of the people who died in a bus crash to their town in the Alps. To say that weirdness ensues would be an understatement.
The Returned aired in France with the title Les Revenants and was adapted for television from the film of the same title. It also aired in England as Rebound – to critical acclaim.
The premiere of The Returned opens with a glimpse of students on a field trip being given an assignment as they sit on a bus that almost immediately thereafter swerves and goes off the road and over a cliff. Cut to several years later and a red-headed girl, Camille (Yara Pilartz), we saw on that ill-fated bus climbs up onto the road and starts walking back toward town. Juxtaposed with her journey, are a freaky sequence with a butterfly coming back to life and crashing out of its display and scenes with townspeople – an old man at home; customers in a pub, and a group at a meeting about erecting a memorial to the victims of the crash. There is a very creepy opening credits sequence.
When Camille arrives home, her mother, Claire (Anne Consigny), somehow manages to hide her shock and calls Camille’s father, Jerome (Frederic Pierrot). Jerome, too, is shocked – but Camille seems perfectly normal and has no idea what has happened. Somehow, her biggest shock comes when she sees her sister Lena (Jenna Thiam) – and we see why, before too long.
Soon, others have returned – a handsome young man named Simon (Pierre Perrier), who seems very lost when he discovers his girlfriend (Clothilde Hesme) has not only changed jobs, but addresses; a silent young boy (Swann Nambotin) who follows another woman home; a man who is not at all nice – but one man, Pierre (Jean-Francois Sivadier), seems to have been expecting this…
Written by Fabrice Gobert and Emmanuel Carrere and directed by Gobert, Camille is a strange, deliberately-paced hour that creates an eerie atmosphere. The town, tucked away in the mountains, should be (and is) picturesque but feels just a touch off; not as clearly weird as Twin Peaks, say, but with a feeling of melancholy hanging over it. The score is almost relentlessly askew – a haunting, and again, freaky (yet subtle), electronic collage.
The return of the crash victims is presaged by a very brief, unsettling, power outage that affects the whole town. As we meet the characters, especially the returning ones, lighting and angles are off just enough to subtly unnerve – and lights flicker. Are the Returned resurrected? Are they a new kind of zombie? How has this happened – and why here? Why these people?
The Returned forces one family to re-examine what family means; it calls belief systems into question, and it shows extremes of human behavior. Not everyone is happy to have someone return and not all the Returned are happy to be back – though one is extremely pleased, but not for any expected reason…
Sundance Channel made a big splash with its first scripted series, Rectify, and its quality import Top of the Lake. The Returned is a match for those shows in terms of quality, imagination and insight. It’s creepy, scary and wonderful (in the original sense of the word) – and it’s perfect viewing for Halloween.
Don’t let the subtitles scare you away.
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Photos by Jean Claude Lother/Courtesy of Sundance Channel