The Return Movie Review
Written by Rosie Fletcher
Movie released by Universal Pictures (UK) Ltd
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Written by Adam Sussman
2007, 85 Minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Sarah Michelle Gellar as Joanna Mills
Peter O’Brien as Terry Stahl
Sam Shepard as Ed Mills
Kate Beahan as Michelle
Adam Scott as Kurt
Seeing the poster for The Return, and hearing that Sarah Michelle Gellar would be playing the lead, I immediately did a quick check to see if this would be another remake of an Asian horror film. In fact it’s not, but it seems to take a number of cues from this type of thing — a slow build up, a focus on characters and relationships, a female protagonist and a slightly scary child. No gore, all tension. This is a psychological thriller with a supernatural edge and, as a female fan of Asian horror films, I felt very much that I was part of the target audience.
Using a non-linear narrative structure involving frequent flashbacks and scenes of hallucinations, The Return tells the story of Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar – TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) — a damaged woman plagued since childhood with visions and nightmares of another woman’s life. The visions lead her to a town called La Salle, Texas, and into the arms of Terry (Peter O’Brien, who British audiences may remember as Shane from Australian Soap "Neighbours"). As you might expect, Joanna must discover the secret and the source of her visions before a final showdown and some mild peril.
The Return is beautifully shot and uses some stunning locations — it is fantastic to look at. Views of incredible open landscapes are contrasted against sets like the cluttered and claustrophobic barn, or the bar adorned with sides of meat. There’s also good use of sounds, like the slow footsteps in the bedroom, to build up the tension (although the cheesy music over some of the scenes between Gellar and O’Brien is out of place and unnecessary). Gellar does a reasonable job as Joanna — depressed and needy, as well as supposedly a force to be reckoned with as a sales woman. But while she’s a fairly sympathetic character, I couldn’t care enough about her for that to be the driving force of the film.
And herein lies the big problem with The Return — while it starts off slow, tense and promising, it never gets beyond that. When all is said and done, the story just isn’t worth telling; or at least it’s not worth telling at the cinema over almost one and a half hours.
This would make a perfectly serviceable episode of "Afterlife" (UK drama series about a clairvoyant) or "Medium" (US drama series about a clairvoyant). I applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something a little different. The early sense of weirdness — that you’re not sure what exactly you’re watching, what’s real and what’s not - and the fabulous cinematography are all things to recommend this film. There’s the odd scene that’ll make you jump and there are a two or three twists along the way that you may or may not guess (although they don’t all make absolute sense). Ultimately, however, The Return left me disappointed. I can only recommend it as a rental.