Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The Returned: It can't hide the B-movie within

Kris Holden-Ried in The Returned.

2.5 out of 4 stars

The Returned
Written by
Hatem Khraiche
Directed by
Manuel Carballo
Emily Hampshire, Kris Holden-Ried

Imagine the scene: A talented young filmmaker takes the podium at a news conference and explains that, despite the tidal wave of acclaim, his new movie has been misinterpreted from the get-go.

"What you fail to see," he says, "is that my film, which appears to be about an actual, real-life social problem, is really a complex metaphor for zombies." And the crowd goes wild.

It has become both an artistic and a critical cliché to discuss zombie movies in terms of what they really "mean" and, 45 years after Night of the Living Dead, a worldwide roll call of auteurs, hucksters and hacks have tried their hand at using the trope of shambling, undead hordes to jab at hot-button issues.

Story continues below advertisement

The Canadian-Spanish co-production The Returned doesn't bring much new to the party, except maybe restraint. For all its determined rib-nudging about prejudice, the medical-industrial complex, and the haves and have-nots, it never quite clarifies exactly what its poor, frothing monsters are supposed to represent.

Kate (Emily Hampshire) is a doctor at a big-city hospital who works with patients who have been classified as "returned" – the victims of a zombie epidemic several decades old and currently in a tentative state of containment. By injecting a special antidote at regular intervals, "returned" people can lead regular lives, but there is a stigma attached: A scene where Kate's secretly afflicted partner Alex (Kris Holden-Ried) warily "comes out" to another couple over dinner is squirm-inducing in ways that go beyond brain-eating gore.

The Returned can't transcend its packaging as a genre piece: It swaps out an entire set of horror-movie manoeuvres for trite, TV-style thriller tricks. Hampshire and Holden-Ried are excellent as the lovers coping with a unique stumbling block to their relationship; yet, when they learn that the antidote will soon be in short supply, the film becomes less affecting. The plot twist transforms the rich, multidimensional characters into anxious props in a ticking-time-bomb scenario.

Director Manual Carballo, whose 2010 feature Exorcismus was seen as a straightforward flip through the possessed-child playbook, keeps things moving briskly, and cinematographer Javier Salmones bathes everything in shades of night (the entire film has a doleful, greyish tinge). The quiet elegance of the film's craftsmanship is a point in its favour, but it's a bit self-defeating given that the basic appeal of this material is visceral. A key sequence where a man methodically chains himself to a wall in anticipation of a brutal transformation is telling: This is a serious, austere film that feels as if it's barely restraining the B-movie within. In the end, it fights itself to a draw.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to