The Returned

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Returned
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

A zombie plague almost caused the end of the world just when scientists find an antiviral agent that will stay the course of the disease, allowing those bitten to lead a normal, AKA non-zombie, life. But, those infected must take the drug every day to forestall the effects of the plague. When the protein that is used to make the antiviral runs in short supply chaos engulfs society and endangers those called “The Returned.”

Robin:
A zombie plague almost caused the end of the world just when scientists find an antiviral agent that will stay the course of the disease, allowing those bitten to lead a normal, AKA non-zombie, life. But, those infected must take the drug every day to forestall the effects of the plague. When the protein that is used to make the antiviral runs in short supply chaos engulfs society and endangers those called “The Returned.”

This is a new spin on the zombie genre – man cannot cure the dreaded disease but he can keep it at bay – that makes “The Returned” a worthwhile watch for fans of the walking dead. The story, directed by Manuel Carballo and written by Hatem Khraiche, centers on husband and wife Kate (Emily Hampshire) and Alex (Kris Holden-Ried). He is a musician whose dark secret comes to the surface when the antiviral becomes scarce and she is a prominent doctor and expert in the zombie disease.

The disease is under control – at least the turning can be postponed indefinitely – but society is being torn apart by the militant protestors who want all the returned killed immediately. Their cause is fueled when the government announces that the protein crucial in producing the anti-virus is in short, dwindling supply. (The news of the day: “The synthetic protein has not been synthesized.”) Fear and hatred have a greater hold on the people than logic and reason and a bloodbath begins.

Alex and Kate and their story of love and survival are given equal shrift within the bigger world-gone-mad tale. The multi-dimensioned structure of the film makes a subject that is beginning to grow stale seem fresh. The concept of vigilantism zombie-style raises sympathy for the would-be monsters who just want a normal life, turning the genre on its ear. The humans become monsters and the monsters just want to be normal. I give it a B.

Laura:
Kate (Emily Hampshire, "Cosmopolis") has a personal history for working in her particular line of medicine.  She's involved with the team who came up with the antidote to the zombie plague which ran rampant over the land.  But there is prejudice against the treated and the situation becomes a political flashpoint when the economics of creating the serum causes a deeper divide between the uninfected and "The Returned."

Not to be mistaken for the French series running on the Sundance Channel (which, was itself, based upon a French film by the same title), this twist on zombie horror from director Manuel Carballo does have a lot in common with the British three part miniseries 'In the Flesh.'  While that BBC America program also used 'returned' zombies as commentary on bigotry and discrimination, its lengthier unfolding was more rewarding, richer on a character level.  Swapping that film's gay allusions for more obvious Holocaust imagery, Carballo pumps up the thriller element to the detriment of character development - it's worthwhile, but could have been so much better with another polish or two.

The black and white opening credit sequence provides Kate's horrific back story, in which she witnessed one parent devour the other before escaping.  Jumping to today, Kate works in a research clinic where we learn that those who have been brought back from the virus can have sex, although their blood must be handled with surgical gloves (a muddled AIDS allegory which never comes to bear).  Meanwhile, we're clued into the social ramifications when her husband throws a student out of guitar class who makes a derogatory comment about Returneds.  Without giving too much away, let's just say that Alex (Kris Holden-Ried, "Underworld: Awakening") has more of a stake in the matter than support for his wife's work.  When they have dinner with Alex's best friend Jacob (Shawn Doyle, HBO's 'Big Love') and his wife Amber (Claudia Bassols), she tells them the plot of her latest book, but while it's clearly influenced by the present zeitgeist, it's hard to tell which side of the argument she stands on.  When serum levels run dangerously low, the whole country is swept into a panic, but it is how these two couples react that drive the film's twisty finish.

If only it weren't so obvious how things were going to play out.  Hatem Khraiche tries to weave foreshadowings into his screenplay, but they're more like neon signs.  I don't know why, but sometime during the film's third act I began to think about one of the better adaptations of a Stephen King novel, one whose story had nothing to do with this one's, but I just felt the same ending coming on.  It's not just the story telling which lacks subtlety, though.  Moments after passing a Coke machine, there is a 180 degree pan around Kate at a vending machine, a bit of corporate sponsor pandering waving flags for our attention.  And yet Carballo is capable of surprising us, most ingeniously by making us think he's failed us just before springing a shocking moment.  The performances he gets from his cast are uneven, although Holden-Ried is very effective.

"The Returned" is a solid B movie, especially for those who haven't been exposed to this addition to the zombie canon before.  See it on VOD.

B-
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