Unlike the slew of disappointing horror releases this fall, including Sarah Michelle Gellar’s other release, “The Grudge 2,” “The Return” brings back traditional elements of quality horror.
The film begins with a flashback, the first of many, in which Joanna (Gellar) remembers a traumatizing experience at a carnival. The film flashes forward to the present, as Joanna travels around the southern part of the United States for her job, encouraging manufacturing companies to merge. But this time, the road trip involves strange occurrences, such as radio interference and a mysterious green car that follows her everywhere.
Joanna also dreams about places she has never been and people whom she has never met, and when she goes to find these places and people, things go from bad to worse. As she starts to put all the pieces together about what is really happening in these dreams and flashbacks, she realizes that her life is in more jeopardy than she originally assumed.
Gellar continues her reign as scream queen, even though she has very few lines in this film compared to her past work. Her face and body language convey the fear, sadness, confusion and strength of her character, proving once again that she is still underrated as an actress.
J.C. MacKenzie plays Griff, a man who seems to be connected to Joanna’s visions and unusual experiences. MacKenzie layers his character with sympathy and mystery, making Griff the wild card of the film.
Unlike most modern day horror/thriller films, “The Return” is slow and subtle, which is actually refreshing. Recent shock films, such as “Wolf Creek” and “Hostel,” have relied on quick cuts, extreme violence and cheap scares to pollute every scene. “The Return” allows its atmosphere to develop slowly so the audience can feel uneasy even when nothing scary is happening on screen.
When something scary does happen, the impact is much greater because it had great buildup and a purpose. Just like with “Saw,” the scariest scenes are grounded in reality, especially the part in which Joanna is hiding under her bed from the driver of the green car.
Director Asif Kapadia injects tension and dread into the look of the film, yet his washed-out filter, which makes everything appear in an ugly light green, is a little distracting. Fortunately as the film progresses, the plot and acting are engaging enough to minimize this distraction.
Adam Sussman’s screenplay does a service to the audience by not explaining everything up front. He allows the audience to piece it all together, just as Joanna does. When the ending is finally revealed, it doesn’t feel like a forced twist ending but part of the film’s logical progression.
The script does have some loose ends, though. Scenes earlier in the film are left unexplained, even after the revelation at the end. There are also quite a few characters who show up early in the film, but are never to be seen again during the second half. This is slightly frustrating, since they appear to be important to the plot when they first show up but are never actually developed, and their disappearance from the film is never explained.
“The Return” isn’t big, glossy or hyperviolent. It’s more about plot and character development, and it’s all the better for it. This film is a return to the more old-school horror films, in the vein of Hitchcock and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Many of today’s audiences with short attention spans might get bored, but those willing to be patient will find more than enough to return to once the DVD hits shelves.
“The Return” was written by Adam Sussman and directed by Asif Kapadia.
“The Return” received three stars.