‘The Returned,’ New Look at the Zombie Narrative

Television show “The Returned” provides a refreshing new perspective on zombies. / Courtesy of SundanceTV

By Ilana Ander, Contributing Writer

What happens when the dead come back to life? “Les Revenants” (“The Returned”), an amazing, yet disturbing television show found on Netflix from across the Atlantic ocean will have you questioning the implications of death in a way that no zombie show ever has before.

“The Returned” is a supernatural thriller that is as far from the hit drama show “The Walking Dead” as possible. Beautifully made, “The Returned” adds a new and much needed perspective to the traditional zombie story that we thought we already knew.

Created by film director Fabrice Gobert (“Lights Out”), the French television show “The Returned” first aired for U.S. audiences in 2013 to critical acclaim. However, an American remake on A&E has just been cancelled, after only one season. Both television series were inspired by director Robin Campillo’s 2004 French drama film of the same name.

The show takes place in a small town in the French Alps that relies on its own reservoir for both electricity and water. Despite its picturesque location, the town is not immune to prostitution, murder and tragedy. Home to a small community where everyone seems to know each other, the town is also recovering from a serial killer’s spree, as well as from a school bus crash that caused the deaths of 38 children.

The first episode, “Camille,” opens four years in the past with the school bus accident that took the life of 15-year-old Camille (Yara Pilartz). Beginning with the bus falling over the edge of a mountainous road, the episode then cuts back to the present, where Camille (who is believed to be dead) climbs over the road barrier unscathed. Confused and completely unaware of what happened and that any time has passed, she begins her walk back to the town where her parents are still grieving.

One by one, a seemingly random assortment of people who died in the town begin to return and create problems, both for themselves and for those around them. However, life has already moved on since the initial deaths of the so-called Returned. Marriages have been broken, new relationships formed and babies born. Just as one thing comes together, another begins to unravel.

Camille returns home to her parents and now-adult twin sister. Another Returned, Simon (Pierre Perrier), who died on his wedding day, tries to find his fiancé. And a Returned child, Victor (Swann Nambotin), seems to be the most mysterious character of them all, as it becomes clear that his role in the deaths of the other characters may be bigger than anyone believed or expected.

As the number of people back from the dead grows, the living must make a choice: to accept what is happening as a new and normal reality or to ignore the presence of the Returned and carry on with the lives that they’ve rebuilt for themselves.

Not only do the Returned appear to be human and have maintained all thoughts, feelings and memories of their past selves, but they are unaware that they are dead and don’t know that anything is wrong.

Because of this, serious moral and ethical concerns come into play. Is it better for the living to tell the Returned the truth, potentially causing irreparable harm to the lives that the Returned may be able to recover? Or, is it more beneficial for all to let the Returned continue to live a lie, even though everyone around them knows the truth?

Certain events in this series will have you questioning whether the dead are meant to stay dead, no matter how much we want them back. Prepare to watch a town-wide crisis unfold and wonder how you would react if the same thing happened to you.

In a zombie obsessed culture, this show offers a unique and psychological perspective. Unlike the popular “return of the dead” shows that we know today, this show is not gruesome, but still manages to be disturbing. It rocks the viewer to the core, even without the zombie eating human-type scenes that bring up the ratings, like in “The Walking Dead.”

Get ready for a show that will require your full attention, especially with the subtitles necessary for those who do not speak French. The combination of stunning cinematography, quality script and provocative plot makes for a show on Netflix that won’t lead to post-binge guilt. “The Returned” is a must-watch show, with constant twists, turns and cliffhangers.