If you’re a fan of the creepy…if you enjoyed “Bates Motel” and “Lost”…then “The Returned” (“Les revenants”) is the show you should now be watching. This French series gets under your skin from the first episode and stays there.
Set in a small French village in 2012, the series’ main premise is fairly straightforward, but beautifully executed. People who died and were buried during different years and places start coming back to life, making their way back home looking exactly as they did the day they died. They have no idea of what happened to them or how they have arrived in their present state. The reactions to their re-emergence by those who loved and buried them are all over the map. In the series' first season we spend the most time learning about the recently returned Camille, Simon, Victor and Serge and their respective families and friends.
Camille is introduced first. She is 15, on the school bus for an outing, when her bus stops short to avoid hitting a little boy standing in the middle of the highway, and crashes into the water. We later learn this boy is Victor. Four years have passed since her death from the crash when she returns home. Camille has a twin sister, Léna, who stayed home from school the day of the deadly accident. Since Camille’s death their parents have separated and Léna still feels guilty about missing school that fateful day.
In another episode we learn more about Simon. Simon was a young man making plans to be married to Adèle. The day before his wedding, Adèle tells him that she is pregnant. She’s waiting at the altar when she learns of his death.
While all stories are horrific, little Victor’s is especially heart-breaking and the way it is shown will leave you gasping. Upon his return he is found and taken care of by Julie, a nurse with her own very complicated back-story.
Finally we learn more about Serge. His story is pretty grotesque and hard to watch at times. He was a serial killer—attacking women who were making their way home through a tunnel. His method of attack and the aftermath requires a strong stomach for the viewer. Miraculously, not all of his victims died.
Everything about “The Returned” works—from the opening music to the notes played at episode’s end. In between there is terrific casting and some great acting. The two actresses playing the twins Camille and her now older sister, Léna, (Yara Pilartz and Jenna Thiam), are astonishing in their physical similarities. Both are great in portraying resentment, pain and sibling love. Pierre Perrier as Simon and Guillaume Gouix as Serge have difficult roles to play but do them well—Simon in his perseverance to find love again with Adèle and Serge, trying to change for the better with this new life. But it’s hard not to be astounded by Victor. Where, oh where did they find Swann Nambotin, the actor who plays him? He has very little dialogue, but with those huge brown eyes and enigmatic smile, he doesn’t need to say much.
Some reviewers of “The Returned” refer to the returnees as zombies, but that would not be entirely correct. Aside from being hungry non-stop for food, they currently display no abnormalities. That is part of what makes this story so unusual and haunting. Because the series is subtitled, you can’t turn away from the screen. This is not a bad thing since you won’t want to miss a single second of what is occurring on that screen.
There is one more episode to go in this first outing of “The Returned” and from previews, it looks like we’ll be meeting more of the “undead.” The series has been renewed for another season. I, for one, can’t wait.
You can catch up on this year’s airing of “The Returned” with video on demand or by going to http://www.sundancechannel.com/series/the-returned for more information.