Zombies. The zombie sub-genre of horror has become far too oversaturated. While the genre has been around in some form or another since 1932’s Bela Lugosi starring White Zombie, it wasn’t until George A. Romero completely changed the landscape with 1968’s Night Of The Living Dead that zombies became the undead fiends that we all know and love. Romero would return a decade later in 1978 to perfect the genre with his masterpiece Dawn Of The Dead. There have been different takes on the genre that helped redefine them, most notably 1985’s punk rock zombie epic Return Of The Living Dead, helmed by the late Dan O’Bannon. But for the most part, zombies have remained the same over the decades. Following the James Gunn written, Zack Snyder directed 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead as well as Danny Boyle‘s not-zombies but might has well have been 2002 film 28 Days Later, zombies became all the rage. Since then, cineplexes, and more notably the direct-to-video market has rarely gone a month without at least one zombie film hitting the shelves. Most of these have been rather awful, but there are the films that try to take the concept and put a fresh spin on it. Certainly one of the most notable of these was 2006’s Fido. It is the rare film that makes an attempt to try something new and succeeds wildly. Sadly, most films never even bother to make an attempt.
2013’s The Returned has decided to attempt trying something new with zombies. The plot is that a medication has been created that, given in time, allows people who have been infected to continue leading a normal life. As is the case with any type of death deterrent, it is notably controversial. People who undergo the treatment are known simply as “Returned”. However, the period that the film takes place at a point in time that the supplies of the medication are dwindling, which understandably causes quite a bit of concern amongst not only the regular portion of humanity, but also amongst the “Returned”.
The story itself focuses on Alex (Kris Holden-Ried) and Kate (Emily Hampshire). Kate is one of the leading doctors dealing with the “Returned” epidemic, while also being at the forefront of the campaigning and fundraising efforts for the medication. Her boyfriend Alex is one of the patients who has been “Returned” for six years. After a terrorist attack where two men in ski masks attack and kill all the patients in her ward, she requests time off. Shortly thereafter it becomes clear that the rumors of dwindling amounts of the medication are true, resulting in anybody that is registered as being “Returned” being collected. With the help of their friends Jacob (Shawn Doyle) and Amber (Claudia Bassols) they are able to go on the lam and plan their escape. But given that this is a film, not everything is as it appears and not all relationships are as strong as once thought.
As I have already mentioned, the most admirable aspect of the film is in its attempt to do something different with a genre that has become almost as stale as the flesh of the zombies it represents. While it is not as successful as a film like Fido, it does quite a decent job with the ideas it presents. By focusing on essentially just two characters as opposed to the full epidemic, it becomes a much smaller film. This works to both the benefit and detriment of the film. With such a unique twist seeing the bigger picture could be incredible, but given that this is not a major budgeted film, it chooses to operate within those boundaries.
When the film first begins, with the protestors and the like, you quickly expect the film to have political undertones. Thankfully, the film shies away from this, and keeps the protesting in the background of the film. More so than anything else, it becomes the story of two people who love each other, and the lengths they will attempt, to ensure that their love continues. Through flashbacks we see that Kate has had past experiences with the undead, which makes her love more tragic. It also lends a sense of gravitas to her determination to help cure not just her boyfriend, but anyone that has become infected.
It is difficult to go into more detail without spoiling the film. The tone of the film does bounce around, growing starker as the picture continues. The few scenes involving the infected eating contain just the right amount of gore for a film like this, never shying away from the grue, but never leaning into exploitation territory. The biggest gripe I have is the ending, which seems to almost directly rip the tone from Frank Darabont‘s The Mist. Of course, it ends up not being the true ending, and we get a slight epilogue that could lead to one hell of a revenge style flick if given the opportunity.
Overall, for a small film that I had not heard much about beyond its appearance on Netflix, you could certainly do worse. It is by no means a feel-good movie, but if you are looking for a film that gives a fresh spin on the zombie genre and you have 98 minutes to spare, definitely toss it on.
The Returned is a Spanish production filmed in Canada, and can be found for instant streaming on Netflix.