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  • 15
  • Horror, Mystery
  • 2006
  • 85 mins

The Return

The Return


Sarah Michelle Gellar gets spooked in Texas by a past murder that will not rest


For the countless obsessive fans of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be beyond reproach. But those who only know the actress through her awkward big screen outings may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Now established as a staple presence in second-rate horror films (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2, The Grudge, even the Scooby-Doo movies), Gellar has yet to establish a strong on-screen identity. Which in a sense makes her ideally suited to her leading role in The Return, as a young woman unsure of who she really is.

Ever since widower Ed Mills (Shepard) and his 11-year-old daughter Joanna (played as a child by McClanahan) were involved in a car accident in their home state of Texas, Joanna has been prone to disturbing hallucinations and bouts of self-harm. Now, at age 25, Joanna (Gellar) leads an unsettled life on the road as a sales rep for a Midwestern trucking company, with no real friends and only a violent stalker for an ex (Scott). When her work takes her back to Texas, the haunting visions return, drawing her to the small town of La Salle.

Although she has never been to La Salle before, the town's bar, a local named Terry Stahl (O'Brien), his isolated farmhouse and the adjacent barn all seem strangely familiar to her, even as her own face in the mirror becomes almost unrecognisable to her. Pursued in dreams by a menacing figure, Joanna becomes convinced that she has become the unwilling eyewitness to a past crime that seems destined to repeat itself.

If the title of The Return makes it sound like a sequel, then its use of those seen-it-all-before tropes that constitute the supernatural thriller genre makes it seem like a remake. Déjà vu, split personality, ghostly possession, the unrestful dead - they are all present and correct, as well as any number of red-herring characters, any of whom might easily fill the boots of the half-glimpsed killer (whose real identity turns out to be more disappointing). And while well-established clichés can often serve as the foundation stones for great new ideas, there is little evidence of originality in this old creaker of a film.

In any other genre, the extraordinary tightness of Adam Sussman's script (where even the most casual lines carry unexpected weight) would be a boon. But here, the way in which every loose end is so neatly tied up by the final reel works against the story's uncanny core, as shadowy creepiness gives way to an over-ingenious and unwelcome clarity. With everything made so explicit in the end and no room remaining for the imagination to lose itself, The Return may impress some viewers with its cleverness, but it certainly will not leave anyone feeling haunted, or even surprised.

What does raise The Return out of video-shelf mediocrity is the assured direction of Asif Kapadia (The Warrior), who with cinematographer Roman Osin and production designer Thérèse DePrez has created a mood of unease that approaches Lynchian levels of hysteria. Here the desaturated shades of Joanna's present seem far less vivid than the colours of her hyper-real flashbacks - while, with an irrationality that the rest of the film sorely lacks, the LaSalle Hotel where Joanna stays seems to double as a butcher's, thus channeling the spirit of that other, far superior piece of Southern gothic, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Sam Shepard, Darrian McClanahan, Adam Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kate Beahan, Peter O'Brien, JC Mackenzie, Erinn Allison
  • Director: Asif Kapadia
  • Screen Writer: Adam Sussman
  • Producer: Jeffrey Silver, Aaron Ryder
  • Photographer: Roman Osin
  • Composer: Dario Marianelli

In a nutshell

Too polished to be truly creepy, The Return has more than enough atmosphere to keep you watching - but nowhere near enough mystery.

by Anton Bitel

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