Somewhat caught out by BBC4’s success in developing subtitled dramas from Europe into cult hits in the UK, Channel 4 has gone fishing for a Eurohit of its own and come back with The Returned, a spooky and atmospheric eight-part French production.
Set in a small, provincial town, this examines what would happen if people believed and indeed certifiably known to be long dead suddenly came back to life overnight for no reason. A young school child killed in a coach accident on a school trip; a bridegroom killed on the morning of his wedding; a man who is seemingly a serial killer – they all come back, dazed and confused and with no idea what’s happened to them or even that years have passed in the interim. They and their families and loved ones now struggle to cope with what’s happened and what it all means for their lives.
Chances are most viewers will want to know how and why this selective wave of resurrections is happening, and it remains to be seen whether or not the writers actually have a solid idea underneath all the atmospherics; chances are that they just this was a cool premise and an interesting ‘what if’ idea to work through, so I’m not sure than an ‘answer’ at the end is really the point of it at all.
In the meantime it’s a very stylish and unsettling drama, riffing off the current popular appeal of vampire and zombie genres without actually fully belonging to either. It’s certainly intriguing and compelling enough to keep us going for the time being, but the question is whether it will have anything deeper to move to once the initial archness and shock appeal wears off and we start getting frustrated and bored by all the inevitable obfuscations involved.
One character seemingly not on the same track as the other returnees is the young child Victor who has attached himself to a local nurse. He refuses to talk and we know nothing about his backstory yet except that he was also present at (and indeed caused) the school coach accident; he manages to be both winsomely charming and deeply disturbing in a Damien/Omen fashion and promises to be at the heart of any real development in the mysterious back story.
The eight-part first season of The Returned airs in the UK at 9pm on Sundays on Channel 4. Season 1 will be released on DVD in the UK on September 9 2013. The feature film that inspired the TV series will be available on DVD on July 22, 2013.