The Returned (Blu-ray)
Music Box Films / 2012 / 480 min / NR
I can't help but feel Stephen King is kicking himself for not coming up with this concept sooner, despite his praise for the series. The Returned is the story of a small mountain town where the dead have come back to life. I'm not talking Night of the Dead back to life, but an everything-is-normal back to life as if they never died at all. The people of the town don't know why they come back to life and neither do those who came back. All the more confusing is why they reappear after a few months of their demise and the connection these events have to the dam water decreasing at a sharp rate.
Over the course of eight episodes, we follow a number of different characters affected by the phenomenon. Teenager Camille turns up months after she and her classmates died when their school bus went off the road. Returning to her mom, dad and older sister, the family attempts to resume life as if nothing happened, but they can't fight the confusion. The older sister refuses to accept that her sister is back from the dead and Camille is incredibly frightened about why none of her other classmates came back. The other characters that come back and cause frustration are a groom, a serial killer and a strange boy named Victor who looks on with a creepy and knowing gaze. And there are several others known as the Returned that will apparently bring about the end of days.
What I found most appealing about The Returned is how well the concept is explored while keeping the mystery subtle and aloof. While there is a decent amount of time devoted to asking the big question, most of the time is spent with the characters and how they react to the newly revived. How could you go back to a normal life after you or a friend were dead for so long? Do you accept it or let it haunt you? Do you seek out the truth or neglect it for fear of what may be? These are all tough questions asked by every single character as they struggle to either make all the pieces fit again or violently make sure they stay broken.
There have been several TV series attempting to replicate the creepy and subtle vibe of Twin Peaks, but The Returned is the only series that has managed to succeed. Shot in the dreary mountains with cool colors and a deep ambient soundtrack, the atmosphere is perfect for a foreboding story of the terrifying unknown. The show wraps you in by keeping the secrets interesting as they're slowly revealed against thoughtfully-crafted characters. You want to know more about the town, these people and just how much more stranger the scenario may become.
While the series may not provide the most concrete answers, I was impressed at how it was able to keep the wheels spinning throughout all eight episodes. There are so many levels to the characters and the strangeness of the whole town with all of it given plenty of breathing room. You really get a chance to drink in the characters and beauty of the bizarre. The characters do not spend the entire time discussing the plot because not many of them are aware of the specifics. All they know is that the dead are returning and it's causing mass-frustration. We're taken along on a journey we can relate to that doesn't reveal any more than it needs to. Sometimes it's more fun to be in the dark and The Returned lets us enjoy the mystery for all it's worth.
With such a fantastic story and style, The Returned is a chilling piece of some of the best fantasy television ever conceived. The only downside is that at eight episodes you'll blow through this series rather quick. I could easily see this series going at least another two seasons. I cannot recommend this series enough for those seeking a unique, atmospheric and smart approach to supernatural thrillers.