DVD Review: The Returned (2004) 1 20

Originally released in 2004, The Returned (AKA Les revenants in its native French, AKA They Came Back) is finally being released on DVD to coincide with the TV adaptation, currently showing in the UK on Channel 4, which has been slowly creeping out and drawing in any audience who would consider its weirdness their cup of tea.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare the film to its small-screen counterpart, especially considering the film has around 100 minutes while the series has many hours, but the very fact that it’s being released just as the latter is compelling its viewers automatically invites comparison. The two of them have a similar concept though differ greatly in how they handle them. The basic idea is that the recently deceased, 65% of which are in their old age, suddenly and mysteriously return from the dead. How does their returning affect both the people around them and overall society that has moved on without them?
The film obviously must be given the credit over the show for having the idea first and indeed it is a gem of a concept. However, the film often leaves the idea short-changed as it focuses on underdeveloped character drama; there’s initially intriguing character stuff including an old man dealing with his long-time wife returning and how a couple react entirely differently to their young son suddenly being alive again but none of it is given enough time for us to truly get invested. There’s also a strange lack of shock and awe about what’s actually happened, the sudden rise of the dead far too easily accepted with much more of a focus on scenes of how the government handles the situation that while interesting at first eventually become repetitive.
This is a much more low-key, even downbeat affair than the show which has a far more primal and menacing way about it which makes it far more compelling. The film is more concerned with the practicalities of the dead returning and integrating with society – for instance whether or not they should be allowed to return to their old jobs – than with raising dramatic mysteries.
There’s a cold, distancing effect to the film that lacks dramatic tension however it’s not without its sense of creepiness. Director Robin Campillo (who went on to write and edit such films as The Class and Heading South) certainly has an eye for striking imagery and shot composition that lingers with you long after it has moved on to another scene. Take the opening shot for example which, without warning, appears on-screen showing a large group of people walking out of a cemetery. The camera stays on them as they make their way to a road in the centre of the town (shown above). There’s just something inherently unsettling about watching a large group of people walking or standing with seemingly no purpose and it’s a motif the director utilizes with skill.
It starts off clear and concise in a way that sits opposite to how the TV show has handled the concept – drumming up social commentary because of the way the government decides to deal with people that are evidently less suitable to being a part of society – but becomes more and more vague as it goes on. However, it comes across a lot of the time as just being unclear for the sake of it rather than compellingly raising questions that it might answer down the line. There’s a fine line between being intriguingly ambiguous and just being frustratingly vague and unfortunately the film falls more into the latter category than it does the former. It ends on a note that while consistent with its sense of eeriness is nonetheless unsatisfying.
If you were to recommend this film to someone you might be forced to describe it as some sort of modern take on the zombie genre but to call the returnees zombies would be to misrepresent both the concept and the intent of the film. This is drama tinged with an eerie sense of dread than it is a horror fest of Romero flesh-eating proportions. It’s just a shame that it never comes together as a dramatic whole, too often leaving things open but without feeling like it’s inviting interpretation. I hate to say it but just watch the TV show if you want to see something that takes this brilliant concept and runs with it.
Special Features
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The Returned is released on DVD on July 22nd.
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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

1 Comment

  1. I have seen people say this movie is existentialistic and socio-politic, but in my opinion Les Revenants is mostly criticism to existentialism. Basic idea, as I see it, is “What’s dead should stay dead, and shouldn’t be thought as alive.” The movie shows the problem with the absolute freedom that is often thought as the guideline of existentialism. It shows freedom and the society with clear norms collide. I also saw loads more of thoughts that I just couldn’t grasp because I haven’t read enough. The socio-politic part, “how can we reintegrate thousands of ex-dead people back to normal life”, is just a small part of the movie.

    Why is Les Revenants so good? The symbols are clear, the idea shows itself to all who understand the concept, the critic is justified (it identifies the dilemma) and all of it is done from 3 different viewpoints.

    If I’d have to suggest this movie to someone, I probably wouldn’t. It’s really not good as a movie, but better watched as a fictional document.

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UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: February 20th 2012 0 23

Thoughts On Film - DVD Blu-ray releases Feb 20th

Pick of the Week

Warrior

Director: Gavin O’Connor

Writers: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorman

Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte.

Synopsis: Warrior centres around Tommy (Hardy) – an ex marine haunted by a tragic past, who enlists the help of his estranged father (Nick Nolte) to train up for the fight of his life. A former wrestling prodigy, Tommy blazes a path towards SPARTA – the biggest ‘winner takes all’ Mixed Martial Arts event in history. His brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), an ex-fighter-turned teacher, also returns to the ring in a desperate bid to save his family from financial ruin. So when Brendan’s unlikely, underdog rise sets him on a collision course with the unstoppable Tommy, the two brothers must finally confront each other – and the forces that pulled them apart – in the ultimate face off.

This sports movie meets family drama was unfairly compared to The Fighter upon its release but it mixes both ends of the spectrum better than that film in my eyes. It’s not exactly original but it just proves that if it’s well made then that lack of uniqueness doesn’t really matter. The actual fight scenes are genuinely exhilarating, each one better than the last. An involving and compelling film with some added dramatic weight.

Extras include:

  • Redemption: Bringing Warrior to Life Documentary (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Brother Versus Brother: Anatomy of the Fight
  • Philosophy In Combat: Mixed Martial Arts Strategy
  • Simply Believe – A Tribute to Charles ‘Mask’ Lewis, Jr.
  • Audio commentar with filmmakers and actor Joel Edgerton.
  • The Diner: Deleted Scene (with optional commentary)
  • ‘Cheap Shots’ Gag Reel
Warrior DVD cover

Other Releases

Real Steel – This surprisingly enjoyable blockbuster from director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) is set in the near-future when robot boxing is the number one sport. Hugh Jackman stars as a struggling trainer who one day finds out he has an 11-year-old son who wants to spend time with him. It’s not reinventing the wheel but it does what it aims to do very well, making for a great family action film. Take note Michael Bay: this is what a movie about giant robots hitting each other should be!

Extras include:

  • Countdown to the fight – The Charlie Kenton Story (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Making of Metal Valley
  • Building the Bots
  • Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornermans Champ (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes with introductions by director Shawn Levy (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Extended ‘Meet Ambush’ (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Deleted Butterfly Storyline (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • Bloopers
Real Steel DVD cover

 

Fright Night – The original 1985 film isn’t exactly a masterpiece but it has a sense of campy fun to it. Unfortunately same can’t be said for this lacklustre remake in which Colin Farrell’s admittedly effective vampire is about the only thing worth watching it for. A lot of the attempts at self-poking humour come off as forced and some dodgy special effects doesn’t help the film overall. Not a complete waste of time but this should have been much better.

(Extras info unavailable)

Fright Night DVD cover

 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark – A clear case of a film not really knowing which audience it’s supposed to be aimed at. It appears to be aimed at kids with its, at times, Gremlins-like scary-but-not-too-much style but then it will turn violent and nasty, making it completely unsuitable for the younger viewers. Some nice moments in there, and you can feel the great Guillermo Del Toro’s presence around the film, but it builds towards a disappointingly ridiculous ending making for an overall unsatisfying experience.

Extras include:

  • A Look Behind the Horror – The Story, The Build, The Creatures
  • Character Profiles – Interviews with Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison
  • Teaser & theatrical trailers.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark DVD cover

 

Miss Bala – This Mexican film received pretty much universal acclaim. Tells the story of a beauty queen chasing her dreams amidst a society dominated by organized crime. I haven’t seen this one yet myself but am very much looking forward to it.

(Extras info unavailable)

Miss Bala DVD cover

 

Repo Man – The cult 1984 noir/sci-fi film finally hits Blu-ray via the Masters of Cinema series. It stars Emilio Estevez as a young punk rocker who is hired to repossess cars but before long strange things start to happen. A flick beloved by many, this Blu-ray release should more than satisfy fans.

Extras (specially approved by the director) include:

  • New high-definition master in the original aspect ratio 1.85:1
  • Original mono soundtrack and 5.1 remix, both in DTS-HD Master Audio
  • English SDH subtitles on the main feature
  • Isolated music and effects track
  • Audio commentary with Cox and executive producer Michael Nesmith, casting director Victoria Thomas, and actors Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, and Del Zamora
  • All-new 2012 video piece by Cox offering further thoughts on the film
  • Repo Man (entire TV version) this legendary variant, prepared by Cox for network television, incorporates deleted material and surreal overdubs in place of profanity
  • Repossessed a retrospective video piece on the making of the film, featuring Cox, producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks, and actors Del Zamora, Sy Richardson, and Dick Rude
  • The Missing Scenes a roundtable viewing of deleted scenes from the film with Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith, real-life neutron bomb inventor Sam Cohen, and character “J. Frank Parnell”
  • Harry Zen Stanton an extended interview with the legendary actor
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • A 44-page full colour booklet specially created by Cox, entitled The Repo Code and incorporating all manner of Repo ephemera

Repo Man Blu-ray cover

Which of these releases will you be spending your money on (if any)?