A subtitled French imported television show isn’t exactly a huge sell in the United States. Neither is a series on the Sundance channel. Despite that, The Returned, has been receiving huge buzz. The Sundance channel already has two critically acclaimed original series under its belt, Top of the Lake and Rectify, slowly cementing itself as a worthy channel for television. The Sundance brand of television consists of much slower narratives than what you’d normally see on TV, but they manage to be compelling at the same time. The Returned fits perfectly within that brand.

The series follows grieving family and friends as their loved ones pop up from the dead, without having aged a day or even realizing they’ve been gone. The concept is similar to USA’s The 4400, where 4400 missing people throughout the decades all showed up together in Washington. Here, the show is more focused on the people left behind than government conspiracies and mysterious returnees.

The first episode centers on the return of Camille, a teenage girl who just four years before died in a bus accident with her classmates while on a school trip. She wakes up in the mountains, right where the bus drove off the cliff, and walks home for hours, unaware that everybody she knows has thought she was dead for years. Her mother, Claire, has prayed for this moment for years and sees it as a miraculous answer. Her father Jerome can’t quite fathom how to react, while her sister Lena parties with friends, spending much of the episode unaware of her sister’s return.

It’s the perfect family to begin the series with since their grief is so palpable. Without any exposition, you can clearly see how this family has fallen apart because of this death. Her parents have divorced, her mother has moved on, her father has become an angry person, and her sister has grown up without her. So much is said by their reactions to Camille’s appearance without resorting to the exposition you just know would be heavily featured in an American series.

Camille isn’t the only person to appear. An old man, Mr. Costa sees his wife appear, no older than she was in their old photographs. A handsome young man, Simon, searches all over town to find his Adele. A child, who calls himself Victor, follows Julie, a woman he seemingly has no connection to, around town, eventually nuzzling his way into her apartment.

Their reactions to these appearances are each very different. Julie is quizzical about the creepy boy but also strangely drawn to him. She called him Victor without ever hearing his name, so he claimed it for his own (or did she psychically figure it out?) and can’t bring herself to call the police. Once Adele sees Simon, she freaks out, screaming and crying for him to leave. Mr. Costa ties up his wife and burns the house to the ground before taking his own life. Each reaction is unique, strange, and eerie.

The mystery of the series is enough to hold the attention of the average television viewer. The slow style works perfectly within the horror drama, making it scary and tense without falling back on jump scares. So far the characters are only tangentially connected, but with enough hints that these narratives won’t be solo for long. Much is said without too much dialogue, which promises strong writing for the entire series.

Even if you aren’t a fan of subtitles or slow shows, The Returned offers much more than style. There’s substance enough for fans of horror, mystery, and drama.

Other Musings:

  • The episode begins and ends with scenes of the bus crash. Will this bookending device continue throughout the series? I hope so. I loved how the opening scene gave us just enough to understand what was going on, but the end revealed that we really had no idea what we were originally seeing.
  • A pinned butterfly breaks out of a case in Mr. Costa’s house. Would it really have been strong enough to do that?
  • The opening credits were well done. Very eerie depiction of ghosts haunting their loved ones.
  • There were a few horror genre standards in this episode, including flickering lights throughout the town and a creepy kid popping up behind someone.
  • horror standards: creepy flickering lights, around the whole town
  • Claire’s initial reaction to see Camille is very quiet. She just stares at her daughter. Then she quickly cleans up all the memorial items in her room in a very frantic and sad move.
  • Julie is connected to a few of the characters. She is Mr. Costa’s nurse and lives in Adele’s former apartment. There must be a reason why she’s connected to so much without having a loved one return.
  • The dead come back very hungry.
  • Lena meets Simon and points out Adele’s house for him. Either it’s a very small town or all these stories are going to randomly intersect.
  • Speaking of Simon, it’s never stated what his relationship to Adele is. I initially assumed he was her boyfriend, but her reaction to seeing him was very frightened. Of course, that’s a natural reaction to seeing a dead person, but it could be more than that.
  • Why isn’t Camille more freaked out that she woke up in the mountains?
  • Lucy, who was connected to Camille’s father, is brutally stabbed to death in a tunnel by a hooded man with stubble. Very scary scene. Will he be somebody who returned too?
  • My favorite scene was when Lena saw her sister for the first time. This is before it’s revealed that they were twins, so the moment was clearly scary to Camille too. However, when their mother finally hugs Camille and holds Lena’s hand, it was a very tearjerking moment for me.
  • Firefighters check the house after Mr. Costa burns it down and say nobody was inside. Did his wife’s body disappear? Does that mean they’re some kind of ghost?
  • One of the firefighters is married to Adele. She says “It’s started again” which is another hint to me that Simon is not quite right.
  • Simon stands over his own grave, which reveals he died in 2002. He’s barely shocked.
  • Mr. Costa kills himself on the same bridge where the bus drove off.
  • There was a bit of dialogue about something being wrong with the water levels at the dam. I’m sure that will be coming back somehow.
  • The end scene reveals that Lena was supposed to be on the bus too, but pretended to be sick to hook up with her boyfriend. Camille psychically felt it, so she tried to get off the bus. In the end the bus swerved to not hit Victor, who was standing in the middle of the street like creepy, psycho kids often do.