From a novel to a film to a French TV show (Les Revenants) to an American TV show inspired by it (Resurrection) to a direct American remake — A&E’s 10-episode series The Returned — the idea about the dead returning continues to have new life.
After Fox’s recent Gracepoint dud (where the series was remade — nearly shot-for-shot — from the British series Broadchurch, just with none of the charm), and NBC’s sluggish Australian miniseries remake The Slap, viewers are right to be wary regarding bad American versions of shows that were just fine to begin with. Though The Returned is also almost a shot-for-shot remake of Les Revenants (even going so far as to name and style the characters exactly as the French series did), it actually does an exceptional job of capturing the original series’ emotion, atmosphere, and huge creep factor.
The Returned is about zombies, but like the exceptional zombie series In the Flesh, it’s also much, much more. The living dead of The Returned are not traditional zombies — they crave sandwiches, not brains — and they have no decay. They haven’t aged since their deaths, be that four years ago or forty, and appear to have varying degrees of knowledge about what happens after death, and why they are back.
Just because those who have returned look and act like they did before their deaths and not like traditional horror characters, that doesn’t mean that everything is fine. There are the emotional aspects of it; how to restart a life when everyone else has moved on? Further, some of the returned turn out to be really, really bad. So while a parent may be overjoyed to have their daughter return to them, but elsewhere, a murderer also stalks the streets once more. Additionally, there are signs that there’s now an instability to the surroundings. Electricity flutters, pipes back up and burst, and wounds from the dead appear on the living.
The series gives a backstory to each returned person at the start of every episode, focusing on each one in kind, and doubling back on certain characters as the show progresses. The stories all begin to intertwine in the small town of Squamish, British Columbia, as the reality of the supernatural occurrence spreads, and more people begin to reappear. From there, the horror really starts to set in.
Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Raelle Tucker (True Blood) brought the series to A&E, and it makes a perfect pairing with Cuse’s other creepy, unique, and deeply atmospheric Psycho prequel series, Bates Motel. The pair have done an excellent job of capturing the tone of the original series, and also nailed the casting. Treme‘s India Ennenga stars as Camille Winship, the first to return, which causes a huge upheaval for her parents Jack (Mark Pellegrino) and Claire (Tandi Wright), as well as her sister Lena (Sophie Lowe). A rock ‘n roller named Simon (Mat Vairo), who died on his wedding day, desperately wants to rekindle a relationship with his ex-fiancee Rowan (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is about to marry another man (Kevin Alejandro) with secrets of his own. A lonely doctor, Julie (Sandrine Holt), finds a mysterious, mute child she calls Victor (Dylan Kingwell), who seems both a tragic case and a cause for local tragedy.
Where The Returned differs from other horror series is in its raw and beautiful portrayal of the real emotions of such an unreal event. At the same time, The Returned never feels slow; the series jumps into the action, with strange, creepy, and violent things happening from the start. Further, in the tradition of great TV storytelling, each episode ends with a fantastic cliffhanger.
There have been rumblings that The Returned will adjust its mythology from that of Les Revenants, and there are a few hints of that in the first four episodes. Mostly, the show sticks closely alongside the original, but a change would not be a bad thing. As engrossing as Les Revenants was, its finale really went off the rails. If The Returned, in this resurrected form, can course-correct that, it may find itself besting its source material.
Ultimately, A&E has seemingly done a very fine job with its adaptation, and found a way to infuse it with a style and energy that other remakes in the past have failed to do. Though some of the wow-factor of the twists and turns (none of which I will spoil) were lost on me in what was essentially my second viewing, the first time I encountered them, I alternated between having chills and being floored. It’s clear that the idea for The Returned has deserved its many incarnations. This one deserves to be watched, too.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
The Returned premieres on A&E March 9th at 10 p.m.