Well, since this series ended quite recently, I thought that I’d write a review of it. “The Returned” (originally titled “Les Revenants”) is a French drama/horror series which was shown in the UK on Channel Four over the past eight weeks.
One of the great things about this series was that Channel Four didn’t patronise their viewers by showing a dubbed version of the series. Instead, they showed a subtitled version of the series. To use a French term, this series is “VOST” (Version Originale Sous-Titrée, I think) – and all the better for it! Whilst your opinions may vary, I’m a strong believer in watching international films/TV shows in their original language.
“The Returned” takes place in a small rural town where the dead begin to return to life. The “undead” in this series are all fairly ordinary people who just happen to have returned mysteriously from the grave – so, if you were expecting zombies, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. The series mostly focuses on the effect which this has on the inhabitants of the town as old secrets are revealed and families are both reunited and torn apart. In addition to this, the water level behind the town’s dam is gradually receding and there is a spate of mysterious power cuts too….
This show is very difficult to describe concisely purely on account of the sheer complexity of it. It has a fairly large cast of characters and, in just eight episodes, there are at least as many (if not more) sub-plots, story arcs and plot threads as the average 20-25 episode American TV series/season would probably include.
Yes, “The Returned” isn’t really a show which you can just watch casually and it’s a show which you have to pay close attention to, but it’s very rewarding if you do. I’ve watched every episode once and I’ve probably still missed out on all sorts of subtle clues and elements of the show. In essence, it is basically an eight hour movie which has been split into episodes.
One of the best parts of “The Returned” are the characters – all of them are extremely complex and believeable people and this series could easily take place in any town in any country (but, please don’t remake it!) Most of the drama comes from both the complex array of reactions from the living towards the returned dead and also how the returned dead adjust to being alive again. It’s much more dramatic than it probably sounds, although this is mostly done in a fairly subtle and realistic way.
In essence, this series doesn’t really have a “main character” as such – although if it did, then it would probably be Camille – a fifteen year old girl who died in a coach accident a few years before the events of the show. Her relationship with her family (and her – now slightly older – sister, Lena) is one of the central plot threads of the show.
The other main characters include Simon, a (devastatingly handsome) man who returns from the dead to find that his fiancee (Adèle) has married the town’s police chief (Thomas). Toni, the landlord of “The Lake Pub”, who learns that his brother (Serge) has returned from the dead – which dredges up a lot of family history that he would rather forget. Julie, a nurse who takes in a mysterious and mostly silent young boy who wanders into the town. But, of course, there are quite a few other main characters too….
Visually, this show is absolutely brilliant too. Almost all of the settings are fairly believeable places which will quickly become familiar to you and the series has a very understated and cinematic kind of look to it too. The title credits sequence is wonderfully haunting too and it contains all kinds of interesting subtle things which you might miss if you only watch it once.
Although I haven’t really heard any of their songs before, the background and title music for “The Returned” was written and performed by a Scottish band called Mogwai and it is incredibly atmospheric, ambient, dark and haunting too. Seriously, the music is one of the many things which makes “The Returned” such a compelling and chilling TV series.
Being a series about death, “The Returned” gets fairly depressing in some parts – although there is always enough drama, mystery and intrigue to keep the show compelling and prevent it from becoming unwatchably miserable. Although it is a horror series, “The Returned” doesn’t really start to become seriously disturbing until about halfway through the series – but, if you’re a horror fan, then it is certainly worth the wait. This series certinaly goes in some fairly dark directions…
Series one of “The Returned” leaves a lot of unanswered questions and, thankfully, there will be a second series of it next year (I’m guessing it’ll probably be shown in France first before it’s on TV in the UK) which will hopefully continue the story and answer some of these questions.
All in all, “The Returned” is an intelligent, complex and chilling show which I cannot recommend highly enough. Yes, it might not be for everyone, but if you like horror and drama, then it’s definitely worth watching. If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a five.