Tag Archives: Sundance Channel

Elegant Sundance thriller ‘The Returned’ is magnifique

A small mountain town is rocked when former residents inexplicably return from the dead none the worse for wear in 'The Returned' on Sundance Channel.

Claire (Anne Consigny, seated left) cuddles her daughter Camille, who inexplicably has reappeared four years after a fatal bus accident, in ‘The Returned’ on Sundance Channel.

If you’re in search of some Halloween entertainment that’s rewardingly creepy yet short on violence and gore, look no further than The Returned, a critically acclaimed eight-part French series premiering (with subtitles) Thursday on Sundance Channel. Widely pigeonholed as a “zombie drama,” this 2012 series sidesteps pretty much all the trappings of that genre in favor of providing more cerebral, yet still very unsettling, chills.
The first episode opens with a school field trip that goes horribly wrong when a bus from a small mountain town suddenly veers off a roadway high atop an immense dam and carries its teenage passengers to their deaths far below. Four years later, the families and friends of those young victims have begun to put their lives back together again, until the night Claire (Anne Consigny), hears a noise in her kitchen and is stunned to discover her teenage daughter Camille (Yara Pilartz), who died in that bus accident, calmly putting together a sandwich. The girl, who looks exactly the same age as she did the last time Claire saw her, murmurs an apology for being late, explaining that she had suffered a blackout on the trip and then awoke on the mountainside near the road. Camille’s a little disoriented but otherwise none the worse for wear – even her clothes are tidy – and she calmly proceeds to have a bubble bath and get ready for bed as the shaken Claire calls her estranged husband, Jerome (Frederic Pierrot), and summons him to her side.
Meanwhile, this same weirdness is playing out all over the small town, as loved ones and other acquaintances who died under unrelated circumstances start stepping out of the shadows and back into the lives of the people they once knew, who are understandably freaked out by these incidents. In each case, the “returned one” has no sense of lost time or memory of his or her passing, just a sense of confusion at the changes that have occurred since then.
A sensation in Europe, The Returned, which is adapted from a feature film by Robin Campillo called Les Revenants, already has captured the attention of American producers, with Carlton Cuse, the show-runner for A&E Network’s Bates Motel, in talks to develop an American version of the show for that same cable channel.
Beautifully filmed, The Returned unfolds at the kind of deliberate pace one normally associates with arthouse fare. Don’t tune in expecting big “booga-booga!” shocks that make you jump, just a mounting sense of unease that something is terribly wrong in this little town, as the human “survivors” – including Camille’s twin sister, Lena (Jenna Thiam), who is now 4 years older than Camille – try to adjust to their inexplicable new reality. I’ve only seen the first episode at this point, but there’s nothing to suggest the “undead” characters are suddenly going to develop a ravenous hunger for brains. Nevertheless, hey, no promises.
Clotilde Hesme and Pierre Perrier star in 'The Returned' on Sundance Channel.

Engaged to marry another man, Adele (Clotilde Hesme) is stunned when her deceased lover Simon (Pierre Perrier) suddenly re-enters her life in ‘The Returned.’

A new Southern gothic

One of the most searing projects of the 2012-13 TV season arrives tonight as the six-episode Rectify makes its two-hour premiere on the Sundance Channel.
Creator and writer Ray McKinnon drew on his own deep Southern roots for this haunting character study, which follows Daniel Holden (Aden Young), a 37-year-old man trying to adjust to his new life after serving 19 years on Death Row. When he was 18, Daniel was convicted of raping and murdering a local girl in his rural hometown of Paulie, Ga. The crime ripped apart the small town, but Daniel’s conviction gave the locals an excuse to put the unpleasantness to bed and move on.
Unfortunately for them, new DNA evidence has led an appellate court to set aside Daniel’s conviction, much to the vocal displeasure of former district attorney Roland Foulkes (Michael O’Neill), who parlayed that case into an eventual Senate seat and is strongly pressing for a new trial. As Daniel’s family tensely waits to see how the case will play out, he moves into the childhood home he once shared with his mother, Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), a widow who has since remarried. Her new husband, Ted (Bruce McKinnon) wants to do right by Daniel, but his son Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), who was poised to take over the tire company Daniel’s father founded, sees Daniel’s arrival as a threat to his social standing.
He’s not wrong about the social impact of Daniel’s homecoming. Janet, who apparently is a lifelong Paulie resident, suddenly is viewed by her friends and neighbors with resentment because she now is harboring an enemy, someone who has ripped off the scab of a deep wound the community thought was long healed. Her daughter, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), was in high school when Daniel was arrested, and while she fervently supports her brother – and even has drifted into an affair with his attorney, Jon Stern (Luke Kirby) – she vividly remembers the filthy anonymous notes that once were slipped into her locker, especially after Jared (Jake Austin Walker), the worshipful kid brother who’s eager to make a connection with Daniel, starts receiving vicious phone texts threating to rape and murder Amantha.
In order to fully appreciate Rectify, it’s crucial that you accept it for what it is, a deeply felt, carefully calibrated examination of Daniel and, to a somewhat lesser degree, his loved ones. This isn’t a formulaic crime procedural – I’ve seen the first four hours and I still am not completely sure whether Daniel committed the crime or not (there are strong hints he didn’t, since his “confession” was given after 11 hours of intense interrogation without an attorney).
Young is exceptional in the principal role as a man who has been so shut down for more than half his life – he tells his sister-in-law he never heard thunder the entire time he spent in his tiny cell – that his new freedom brings a fullblown case of sensory overload to him. The sight and sensation of sunlight on his skin sends him into a blissful reverie, and he rips into a pillow just to stare, fascinated, as the feathers scatter into the air and fall to earth. When his mother assures him he is welcome to stay in her home as long as he likes, he plaintively replies that he has long since lost any sense of time passing, so she probably is going to have to let him know when it’s time to move out.
Meanwhile, Daniel’s family tries desperately to offer him support while recognizing that there is a new stranger – if not a zombie – in their midst, while almost everyone around them freezes them out. (It’s easy to tell that McKinnon is a true son of the South, because he totally nails the killing-with-a-sanctimonious-smile thing.)
The cast, which also includes a great cameo by Hal Holbrook as the defense attorney in Daniel’s original trial, is absolutely stunning, so if I single out Spencer for her heroic work as Amantha, she is only first among equals. Rectify isn’t for action fans – very little “happens” in conventional terms – but as a map of the human heart, it points unerringly to true South.