Return, The (2006)
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Oh man. On days like this it's certain I'm not getting a quote on a movie poster or a DVD cover anytime soon. First off, I’d like to commend the marketing people who put together commercials and trailers for The Return. They did a fantastic job of making this movie appear to be The Grudge 3. To assure moviegoers that this movie is honest to god, good old fashion American horror, they even went so far as to have Zelda Rubenstein (of Poltergeist fame) do a voiceover for the primary commercial. Mind you, Zelda is nowhere in the film. Then there is the fantastic poster that practically drips with otherworldly goo. Killer art. Had I not just seen the film, I would have wanted one to hang up on the wall. The sad truth is that The Return is BARELY a horror movie at all with zero scares and one murder you are forced to relive in confusing "flashbacks" so many times you’ll phone up Joss Whedon and beg him to put "Buffy" back in action. The movie the commercials attempt to sell to you seems like the dream of the movie that actually is The Return.
This movie is very hard to follow so bear with me while I try and piece together a plot for you without giving away the paper thin story, just in case you’re a masochist and still want to see this after I rant for a few paragraphs. Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a traveling ... business person (sorry, didn’t catch what the hell this woman actually does other than she’s good at her job) who is haunted by visions that make her wander off and occasionally cut herself for no good reason. (No, she’s not Goth or Emo, smartass.) As these visions intensify, Joanna has no choice but to allow them to take her to the little town in Texas where someone or something is calling her.
Once she gets to town, Joanna meets a man she feels an instant attachment to and begins to show up at his place like the hot girl you were happy to hook up with until you see her at the mall hanging out with your mom. Creeeepy. This is where the creeps begin and end. Now it’s a special people’s race against time to uncover the truth behind a horrible act that haunts this town of 10 people. If Joanna’s sanity doesn’t unravel and lead her to off herself, the truth might have the same effect (cue the dramatic music).
It’s hard to judge the acting in this film as none of the characters are forced to emote on any spectacular levels. Sarah Michelle plays her usual quaking victim, complete with that faraway glaze in her eyes, and she baby steps her way from scene to scene. Peter O’Brien plays Terry Stahl, an obviously haunted man who was blamed for a crime he would not even conceive. This character is actually believable but devoid of much depth, so I can’t say that the part was that hard to project. Terry just sort of stands there looking confused, like a wounded puppy. The only other character given quality screen time is Sam Shepard’s Ed Mills, estranged father to Joanna, though it is very unclear why. The character of Ed is reduced to a device to carry the story forward and may as well have been "un-named father character." Finally, there is the "evil" spoken about in the commercials, which I can’t really speak about without blowing the whole deal for you. Suffice to say, this "character" is just barely creepy; like that awkward guy that stares at you from across a bar and locks eyes a little too long. No silver bullets needed to dispatch this demon, just a good strong bat.
The irony of The Return is that while Joanna is trying to figure out what her strange, often violent visions mean, you are stuck trying to figure out what the hell is going on. In that sense you are indeed "living the movie," but I’m sure not in the way the director had intended. The film plays out like an inside joke your friends repeat and laugh over for weeks but refuse to tell you what’s so funny. WHAT THE FUCK IS SO FUNNY, BUFFY!!!!!! She won’t talk. Instead, you follow her as she stumbles around town, gets chased by men who may or may not be there, and is assaulted by men who may or may not be there. You’ve got a 50/50 shot.
Another fantastic feature of this film is it appears to be cut all to hell. A quick search on the all-knowing IMDB gave me a synopsis of the film revealing more things than I’d actually seen in the movie I’d just watched. If you enjoy going "What was she doing? Who the hell is that? Was that a flashback or...?" for about an hour and a half, this is the movie for you.
Cinematically speaking, again, the movie poster is more artistic. Director Asif Kapadia covers The Return</i>in a slight haze at times, using a yellow tint or even completely blurs the scene to add to your disorientation. Sometimes a filmmaker will use quick cuts and fuzzy images to suck a viewer into the perspective of a victim, but when that movie is moving with the speed of a narcoleptic porn star with mono, these devices only serve to enhance confusion. Jump scares are attempted but ill timed, like when a buddy stumbles out from behind a tree and looks up to say "boo?" You're not scared, he’s embarrassed, and it’s not even funny.
What’s left is disjointed imagery without explanation, character setups that go nowhere, and the signature quivering lip of the Buffster. (Sorry for all the Buffy mentions. I’m a geek.) God damn I hope someone puts her in a comedy next.
The Return is Stir of Echoes without a crazy ass Kevin Bacon to laugh at and Sixth Sense without that feeling of impending dread. This is 15 minutes worth of story stretched out to its limits. They practically have to retell you the story three times to fill the time. Joanna dreamily takes you through her day as she tries to match up items from her visions with real places and people in this small Texas town. Who is the man haunting her visions? I don’t care. How is the older guy she’s latching onto tied into this? Again, really can’t muster the strength to care. More importantly, what does all this have to do with Joanna? The answers will underwhelm you to your very cooooore!!! The finale of The Return will have some viewers going ohhhhhhh as if they’ve seen the ending of an "Outer Limits" episode while the person next to them is going "wait ...what?"
Be prepared to explain the entire movie all over again as you walk to your car ... or save yourself the trouble and go see something less taxing on precious grey matter, like Flushed Away. Cartoon rats will save your sanity.
1 out of 5
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