‘Les Revenants’ (The Returned) is a French psychological horror, whodunnit/is alive drama which is astounding on so many levels. The writing is tight with so many questions asked in each episode and yet the viewers do not feel short changed because the multiple stories move along at such a pace. They begin with one character being focused upon in the past and it turns out that they are in fact dead (not really a spoiler so no alert) for that. As we delve in to the character we find many different things about them. The ‘returned’ are many but we don’t know who is alive or who is dead in some cases. By the end of the series (next week) maybe we will discover more. Amongst the most strange of the ‘returned’ are Simon, Madame Costa and Victor – the quite astounding young actor Swann Nambotin.
Victor is one of the first ‘returned’ we see, along with Camille, and he seemingly has the ability to make all mothers in the world freeze with his gaze of desolation. It is a performance heightened by his inactivity which at times explodes exposing certain talents he has acquired in his death. In fact all of the ‘returned’ have talents. Be it seeing the dead, jumping from windows or immaculate hair. Surely there are more set to be unearthed?
This is all underpinned by a superb score from Scottish rockers Mogwai who add a weird and disturbing soundtrack to this haunted village. Indeed the deserted and isolated nature of the town adds to the atmospheric condition with it being a character that juxtaposes beautifully with the diverse folk inhabiting it.
What makes this stand out, though, is the characterisation. The alive are not different from the dead. Suspicion abounds as no one character is pure good or pure evil. There are known killers who seem to have more of a positive side than the police or even religious figures in the town. While there are deaths and dead people it has less in common with the high octane approach of AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ but more with a recent BBC Three show. However, the depth of characterisation sets it apart from BBC Three’s ‘In The Flesh’ which for all its brilliance (lauded in a previous blog) always seemed to have a liberal agenda. ‘The Returned’ teaches us to trust no one in true ‘X-Files’ style and that aides the underlying tension masterfully created by the numerous aspects of sound, vision, setting, writing and characters.
Channel 4 are to be commended for buying such a drama even if BBC have already broken the mould with a spate of Scandanavian imports. The marketing has also been tremendous with adverts in French and with French subtitles adding to the word of mouth. I, myself, was brought to ‘The Returned’ by Twitter posts talking about the French adverts during the first episode. If you don’t like watching subtitles then maybe this isn’t for you. But then if you don’t watch the TV while viewing a programme then you should just throw yourself in a big bloody bin.
Catch up on 4OD (or youtube for earlier episodes) it is well worth it.