Rethink Everything You Thought You Knew About Zombies
There is something to be said about a film that sets out to deliver a familiar story told in a whole new way. The Returned not only succeeds at this, but it makes you stop and think, and even RE-think.
Zombies are a major part of popular culture right now, largely taking from the Romero films circa 68-85. Today, they're everywhere we turn - Film, TV, Comic Books, Merch. We have a cross-media phenomenon that no one seems to be tiring of yet. Even so, it always feels as though you've seen it all before, which for the record does not mean you can't enjoy it.
For me, the most thrilling zombie tales tend to be the unexpected ones, ones that gnaw at our own brains by making us question the concepts of life and death. My first experience with this was with a short story by Poppy Z. Brite, "Calcutta, Lord of Nerves". As a first person narration, it allows (what was for me at the time) the unique experience of understanding the zom-pocalypse as a natural disaster - as devastating and horrible on a new level.
I then read Handling the Undead by John Lindqvist (author of Let The Right One In). It changed the meaning of zombies for me. Here we had people who were witnessing the "return" of their loved ones, and although as zombies they would be ravenous and dangerous, these people were completely torn-up by the idea that they could potentially have back what they had believed to be gone forever. A difficult read, emotionally, but it provided some much needed context to the grand-zombie-narrative which was beginning to grow a little stale. And this idea of getting inside the issue is perhaps the secret to the success of The Walking Dead, which becomes less about the zombies and more about the concept of survival as time goes on.
In The Returned we have Lindqvist's concept taken to yet another (fascinating) level. In a time when there is Zombie treatment, returning becomes a privilege that many can look forward to. However, as the supply runs low, the society is faced with many difficult questions. Whose life is worth saving? Who can afford to have their life saved? How can diseased individuals be trusted? Etc.
Obviously, the story blatantly delves into statements about prejudices, and classism, but there are even connotations about religion (namely, are the doctors playing "God"?).
Like all good Canadian films, we are left with an ambiguous ending after a long complicated ride about the complex nature of humanity, but that only makes the film stronger. It's one I believe could be watched ten times by ten different people who would all walk away with different sentiments about what was being said. There are so many issues raised in this one that re-watching can only be beneficial. I won't call it cynical per se, but it definitely will make you wonder if right/wrong, good/bad, black/white are ever clearly defined. A+, without a doubt (despite the lack of gore).
While on the topic, I would like to note that the film was directed by the Spanish filmmaker Manuel Carballo, and written by another Spaniard, Hatem Khraiche. Funded by the Canadian government and filmed on location in Ontario, the film is a Spanish-Canadian co-production - evidently this is the dynamic duo of Zombie flicks.
The Spanish industry brought us the Rec trilogy (see my review here) to which I am forever grateful for for its ability to prove the "found-footage" film CAN be done well.
Canada has also been known for making curious zombie-flicks, and although this is the first to fully land, it's not the first time the industry has dabbled in the concept of life-after-zombies in a fresh manner. Take Fido for instance which had a very interesting context despite falling flat on its delivery (see my review here). Also, the zom-com A Little Bit Zombie attempts to make light of the zombie-turning process in an unexpected manner (see my review here).