The Returned is just as classy, just as brooding, just as French as you’d expect it to be. No doubt it will have many a reviewer hurrying to Google Translate so that they can adopt the full Gallic flavour of the show and pile on all manner of praise for it en Français. Whatever language the praise comes in, it’s all très deserved.
As the increasingly Scandinavian scheduling on our channels betrays, we Brits love to import shows about the cold and the dead by the crate load. So it was only a matter of time before we started importing ones about the undead, this time from across la Manche. After all, three episodes of BBC Three’s excellent In the Flesh could only sustain us for so long. The Returned isn’t In the Flesh though. It’s a much sexier beast.
In fact, the term ‘zombie’ feels like a misnomer. Zombie brings with it more grisly necrotic connotations – an exposed bone here, the throbbing pulp of intestine there – but those who’ve come back from the terrible coach accident that occurs in this show’s opening moments are pristine. They’re better described as the returned dead. Good-looking people who have become tourists in their own lives, and made their nearest and dearest gawping onlookers. Oblivious to their own deaths they wander back into the eerily atmospheric town with all the confusion of Eurovision contestants who didn’t quite place as high as they thought they would.
Young Camille walks nonchalantly into her parents’ house and devours a ham sandwich, much to the thoroughly middle-class reaction of her mother (The Diving Bell & the Butterfly‘s Anne Cosigny); a young man who has clearly escaped from an Yves Saint Laurent ad hammers on the door of his distressed ex; Victor (Swann Nambotin), a little boy with an air of the Midwich Cuckoos about him, becomes the creepiest avatar of whatever terrible truth lies behind the select return of the dead.
However, there’s a lot more going on here amid the carefully cinematographic bleakness. There are all-too-human secrets, and some other decidedly supernatural doings that extend before and beyond the accident, and which will inform the seven episodes to come. An upsetting and sound-effects heavy attack cuts through the terrible stillness of the town. Teens drink. Parents grieve. Mogwai’s sparse but effective soundtrack rolls over you like an Alpine wind. It all amalgamates like frost in your mind and recalls the chilly tension of every Scandinavian movie and series you’ve ever imbibed, especially the original version of Let the Right One In.
Part mystery, part horror, all drama; The Returned is destined to become a hit over here, although we get the feeling its initial focus on gut-reaction, not guts, means it’ll be liked better by The Killing crowd than the Living Dead lot. Only time (and ratings) will tell. But c’est la vie. Or in this case, c’est la mort.
Airs at 9pm on Sunday 9 June 2013 on Channel 4.
Watch the trailer…
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