R29 Halloween Binge Club: You Need To Be Watching The Returned

Photo: Jean-Claude Lother/Haut ET Court TV/Canal.
What would you do if someone you loved dearly died, you grieved and mourned the loss, and after you finally came to terms with the fact that that person was gone and you were slowly moving on with your life (albeit with a gaping, person-sized hole in your heart) that person returned from the dead? That's what starts to happen in a sleepy town in The Returned, a brooding, brilliant, creepy French series that returns for a second season on SundanceTV on October 31. If you're looking to catch up before Halloween (and really, you should), season 1 is available on Netflix.

We hesitate to use the "Z" word (you know, for "zombie") in relation to The Returned. While it includes characters who are, in fact, undead, they are leagues away from the rabid, grunting, brain-munching creatures that we're used to encountering in zombie pop culture.

There's no hulking or lumbering here; the returned are uncanny, living and breathing incarnations of their former selves, exactly as they were when they passed away. They usually don't remember how they died (although their memories start to improve over time), and the only thing they're hungry for is food — lots and lots of it.

So the show asks: What would you do if a deceased loved one showed up on your doorstep, ready to reenter your life as if he or she had never left? What does it mean that these people are coming back from the dead? Do any of them have ill intent towards the living?

The town itself is a bit of a mystery. It's divided into an upper and lower section by a massive dam. More than three decades ago, a storm caused the dam to burst, flooding the entire lower portion of the village and leading to many untimely deaths. Several of the returned are back from that time period, among them a very Damien-esque boy named Victor (Swann Nambotin) and Madame Costa (Laetitia de Fombelle).

Tragedy befalls the village again and again, it seems. Three years before the present-day events of the show, a bus carrying 38 14-year-olds on a school trip drove off a cliff, killing everyone aboard. Now, one of the students, named Camille (Yara Pilartz), has returned, and her twin sister, Léna (Jenna Thiam), isn't emotionally prepared to be reunited with her sibling. That Léna escaped death by pretending to be sick the day of the field trip so she could lose her virginity to the boy Camille liked only deepens her pain.

Slowly, some residents of the town start to acknowledge the supernatural phenomenon that is occurring. They're divided into factions: believers who think the undead need to be protected, and those who think they represent evil forces. Unfortunately, no one is able to leave the village. Drivers who think they're on their way out of town end up traveling in infinite loops.

Even if you're put off by subtitles, this haunting, powerfully scored (by Mogwai) series is an absolute must-watch — especially as we approach Halloween. It's not gory or scary in the way of, say, Friday the 13th. Instead, The Returned takes you deep into the uncanny valley to probe some of life and humanity's deepest questions. Would you want more time with a dearly departed one after you'd come to terms with his or her death? If that person returned, would he or she be the same person you'd lost? Watch the opening credits below and try not to get sucked in.
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