Reed Alexander's Horror Review of 'The Returned' (2013)
I think this movie is more relevant today in America than when it came out in 2013. Please watch this movie...
This, this is a fucking zombie movie. And you know what? There are only two damn zombies in the whole fucking movie. You only really get to see one. The rest are just a looming backdrop.
I talked about this in my review of World War Z. Zombie survival movies are about human struggle, being pushed to the brink, and dealing with personal loss. This movie has all of that and it doesn't even need to show you the zombies to get you there. You know zombies are somewhere in the background. They're an ever looming threat that could cause the situation for our protagonists to go ass up. It's about the not knowing, as the tension builds. Zombies are just a catalyst to showing you how horrible humans can be when pushed to the limits. This makes any singular moment of sacrifice in each zombie survival movie a glowing symbol of what's really good about our protagonists when they finally push past their fears.
Outside of World War Z's high paced, explosion laden, Bourne Identity wannabee story line, the underlying struggle is basically just skimmed over for some really cool glam shots of Brad Pitt. That's not zombie survival. If you want, you can go back and compare my review of World War Z.
Hell, there's no real 'survival' element in The Returned and they still bring in all the elements of struggle, loss, and human tragedy, that any real zombie movie needs.
My god, this plot is rife with complex struggles and fear of the unknown. The plot is pretty simple and straight forward. It really isn't a spoiler to explain this movie depicts a society where the zombie outbreak has been 'cured' for the most part. There are Zombies and there are The Returned. The Returned are effectively people who were on the verge of turning into a zombie but received a treatment in time to prevent it. They don't have a real cure per se, but rather a synthetic protein that keeps the zombie virus in check. Once infected, you're on the meds for the rest of your life. Miss a dose? You'll be a flesh eating undead menace in under 36 hours. Actually, there's a whole underlying parable about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. This was during Reagan, when AIDS was refereed to as 'The Gay Plague' or GRIDS (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). It was a serious stain on American history that surrounds conservative fear mongering over homosexuals, and many died because of the level of neglect by the Reagan administration's policy on AIDS.
The similarities between AIDS during the 80s and this movie are everywhere. The Returned are seen as dangerous and face serious persecution. There are Anti-Returned groups that either promote locking them in camps or even their very extermination. However, I feel The Returned is every bit as important in 2019 Trump's America. I'll get to more about that in the spoilers.
From the description, you can already see where the elements of struggle are. It's just fantastic and outside a few hiccups, the actors are frankly amazing. I highly recommend this movie for absolutely everyone who's living through Trump's America right now. Moreover, it's just damn good so general adult audiences and Horror Heads alike should enjoy this.
SO, the real spoiler is when you learn they need the spinal fluid of full fledged zombies to make the protein for the treatment. The more people they help, the less zombies they have to harvest the protein. Basically, everyone who's become The Returned is a time bomb waiting to go off when there's finally no more zombies to make the treatment.
This creates a new element of struggle that really raises the bar on what's already overwhelming tension. You know the CDC is gonna run out of the meds but there's really nothing anyone can do other than work to develop a more permanent solution through a synthetic protein. Society begins to suspect there's something wrong and begins tearing itself apart. The Anti-Returned groups latch onto this for traction and everything starts spiraling towards full blow social meltdown.
Anti-Returned militants start killing off The Returned and you have a society that begins reaching all new lows due to the threat of more zombies. There's no actual zombies around mind you, just the threat was all it took. Given the situation, the government caves to some of the more extreme measures and starts rounding up The Returned, dragging them out of their houses, and putting them in camps (See what I mean about the current relevance in Trump's America? FYI, if you support family separation and the caging of little children, I do not want you as a fan and you can kindly see your way out. I'm comfortable saying those kinds of fans are unwelcome). Society, humanity even, begins sinking to its lowest depravity due to its fear of The Returned.
This isn't even when it gets good, as I haven't discussed the two main characters, one whom has been Returned. They're facing the inevitability that the male lead will run out of the treatment and go full zombie. They're on the run from the government who wants to throw the lead in a camp. They have to hide from the militants who'll flat out kill him for being Returned. The whole thing starts to feel more like Nazi survival than zombie survival.
There's one scene where the cops come looking for the Returned guy and the female lead has to convince them she killed him. The most chilling part is that she literally confesses to cold-blooded murder and they shrug it off like she put down a rabid dog. They didn't get the exchange quite right, meaning the scene wasn't very believable, but the concept is so inhuman. How would you even know if the acting was done right? I don't really know myself, it's just how they handled the execution left the scene feeling a bit off. Either way, one of the cops was literally glad she did it and told her he would have done the same. One less zombie as far as he's concerned, and the male lead wasn't even a zombie yet.
That's not even the most depraved that people get in this society. I'm not going to ruin all the juicy tidbits, I just wanted to make a point. GREAT zombie movie, no fucking zombies.
The over all movie did have some really dull points, some pretty stupid plot hooks, and finally a few moments of crappy setup and acting. These, however, were few and far between. The movie as a whole is otherwise pretty fucking good. I recommend it to anyone.