Entertainment Television

'The Returned' review: Cerebral, frightening, fantastic

Forgive me while I pick up my jaw off the floor. I've been sitting stunned while powering through "The Returned," the French creep show debuting, appropriately, Halloween night.

Don't miss it. "The Returned" (8 p.m. CT Oct. 31, Sundance; 4 stars out of 4) is far and away the most thoughtful and thought-provoking series I've watched this year.

You just know things are going to get strange when within the first five minutes a once-dead butterfly breaks free of the glass case in which it has been carefully displayed. Yet that beautiful and predictive image comes only after a bus carrying dozens of schoolchildren and their teachers inexplicably drives off a steep cliff in the mountains of France.

Based on the 2004 film "Les Revenants," this eight-episode, sub-titled series has been called a zombie tale because many of its characters, deceased but differing in age and dates of death, somehow return to an idyllic mountain town and attempt to carry on their lives. They're a bit confused, famished and unable to sleep, but otherwise they show no signs of zombie-like decay or a desire to eat human flesh.

In other words, they're not your traditional zombies of schlock movies or "The Walking Dead." Director and co-writer Fabrice Gobert isn't interested in gruesome zombie attacks or skull-crushing zombie deaths. The shocks he delivers are more cerebral, but no less powerful.

Gobert explores the grief and loss felt when someone close to us is taken too soon and what happens when everything we thought we knew about life and death is upended when they reappear.

"Our existence is not limited to our time on Earth," says Pierre (Jean-François Sivadier), who runs the Helping Hands shelter. He wants to comfort with the words, but it sounds more like a warning.

Like many characters, Pierre keeps a stunning secret. Those secrets are slowly and unnervingly revealed to a haunting score by Scottish band Mogwai.

Each episode is titled after a character. The premiere, "Camille," follows one of the bus accident victims (Yara Pilartz) and examines the effect her return has on her parents (Anne Consigny, Frédéric Pierrot), who want to hide her lest someone find out about their miracle, and sister, Lena (Jenna Thiam), who reacts with equal parts revulsion, anger and fear.

There's also Simon (Pierre Perrier), who was killed 10 years previously on the way to his wedding, now searching for his then-fiancee, Adele (Clotilde Hesme), who is engaged to a local police captain. An eerie child (Swann Nambotin) won't talk, but when he follows Julie (Celine Sallette) home, strange things begin to happen. (See the clip below.) Years ago, Julie was the only victim to survive a string of brutal murders which have now begun again, suggesting the killer has returned from the dead.

As more people return to the living, the water level behind a local dam begins to drop, an unexplained phenomenon that compounds the atmosphere of dread and unease.

I don't want to give away too many specifics because the individual stories crisscross in intricate, sinister and spectacular ways. I'm not even sure "The Returned" will provide a solid conclusion, or whether it leaves us with a cliffhanger to be revealed in the already-ordered second season.

I have no doubt I'll be satisfied with either. After all, there may not be answers to the questions posed by "The Returned"—at least not easy ones.

Want more? Discuss this article and others on Show Patrol's Facebook page

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Fall TV 2013 preview: 11 new cable, Internet shows
    Fall TV 2013 preview: 11 new cable, Internet shows

    Every fall, the major broadcast networks unveil the most new TV series and thus grab the biggest chunk of audience attention. But quantity doesn't necessarily equal quality, so to find some of Fall TV's most interesting fare viewers need to check out the cable networks—some you've probably never...

  • 'The Walking Dead:' 5 things you'll learn in S.4
    'The Walking Dead:' 5 things you'll learn in S.4

    We're just a rotting corpse away from a new season of "The Walking Dead." The Season 4 premiere, "30 Days without an Accident," debuts at 8 p.m. CT Oct. 13 on AMC and is followed by a new episode of "Talking Dead," hosted by Chris Hardwick. Here are five things you will learn in the new season.

  • 'Welcome to Me' is highly gawkable
    'Welcome to Me' is highly gawkable

    “Why doesn’t it look like ‘Oprah’?” Alice (Kristen Wiig) asks about the production value of her recently launched, guest-free talk show. Responds one of the many employees who can’t believe this series is happening: “Because you ate a cake made out of hamburger and started crying.”

  • Even the outtakes are predictable in 'Hot Pursuit'
    Even the outtakes are predictable in 'Hot Pursuit'

    In February 2013, Melissa McCarthy starred in an unfunny, aggressive road movie (“Identity Thief”). Four months later, she was the wild card to Sandra Bullock’s straight arrow in an incredibly generic buddy cop comedy (“The Heat”). Opening June 5, McCarthy stars in the very funny “Spy” as Susan...

  • Rauner to aldermen: 'For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs'
    Rauner to aldermen: 'For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs'

    In an unusual and perhaps unprecedented speech, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday dropped in at City Hall and offered a time-tested political horse trade: support his controversial pro-business, anti-union agenda, and he'll help Chicago out of its financial free fall.

  • Is Riot Fest dividing the community?

    The questionable return of Riot Fest to Humboldt Park has polarized the community with the local alderman unwaivering in his opposition and the festival organizers launching a full-court press to bring the three-day music festival back.

  • Mayor: Approval of Burge victims fund a step toward 'removing a stain'
    Mayor: Approval of Burge victims fund a step toward 'removing a stain'

    In a dramatic moment Wednesday, the Chicago City Council rose to acknowledge victims of torture at the hands of former police Cmdr. Jon Burge before approving a $5.5 million reparations package that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said shows Chicago is willing to deal with the dark chapter in its history.

  • Clerk stabbed, robbed at Bucktown store
    Clerk stabbed, robbed at Bucktown store

    A knife-wielding man stabbed and robbed a store clerk Wednesday afternoon inside a Bucktown store.