PLOT: Years after a zombie outbreak, those infected with the undead virus are kept human due to steady injections of an antiviral drug. But with supplies diminishing, and domestic terrorists destroying the remaining meds, one couple will have to do whatever they can to stave off the impending zombification of one of them.
REVIEW: If Lifetime ever decided to get into the zombie movie or series game, it might end up with a product that looks like THE RETURNED, Manuel Carballo’s slow and melodramatic take on life with the undead. That’s not to say it’s unworthy of your time; if anything, Carballo’s film is the antithesis to the majority of zombie films we see today, pushing the shambling corpses aside in order to focus on a tragic romance. It’s an admirable change of pace for a tiresome genre, although it still never actually achieves “you’ve got to see this!” status.
THE RETURNED takes place a couple of decades after a serious zombie outbreak. Society has returned to normal, for the most part - there aren’t flesh-eating zombies among us, but there are those who have been infected by them. Classified as “The Returned,” these people are living with the zombie virus inside of them and are kept normal thanks to daily dosages of a quickly diminishing antivirus. If they go too long without their meds, well... they’re not your friends anymore.
Kate (Emily Hampshire) is a nurse at a hospital who scores the meds on the downlow for her lover Alex (Kris Holden-Reid), who has the virus thanks to a very brief encounter with a zombie six years prior (he merely received a scratch, but it was enough to infect him). The couple is happy but concerned, as supplies of the drug are diminishing and radical anti-Returned groups are making it their business to destroy the remaining meds or worse - destroy the Returned themselves.
Much of the film deals with the increasing panic Kate and Alex feel as the harsh reality for the Returned escalates; amid violent attacks from the extremists and the scramble to procure medicine, the duo has to ultimately contend with the idea that their days together are numbered. And of course there’s the question, what to do with Alex if/when he turns?
Carballo’s movie is leisurely paced, to be sure, with only a few scenes of action and a fairly minimal amount of suspense. This isn’t necessarily a failure, but a tone achieved by design. Writer Hatem Khraiche’s story is more concerned with the slow turmoil Kate and Alex feel as the clock ticks down. They’re likable enough characters, worthy of our sympathy, and the movie never overwhelms you any kind of Nicholas Sparks-esque romanticization of their tragedy. That is to say, it avoids being sappy.
But THE RETURNED never really picks up much steam, either. It holds your interest but doesn’t grip you, and considering the intrigue of the plot and the issues on its mind - prejudice, domestic terrorism, even health care - it’s disappointing the film doesn’t have more pop. The global scale of the problem is somewhat muted, as well. Though this is the story of one couple’s struggle, the societal implications of what would happen if the many Returned suddenly became monsters isn’t strongly developed. You keep waiting for the movie to rev up and get down to business, but if anything its predictable third act slows down and ultimately flat-lines.
Not poised to blow you away, THE RETURNED does earn points for being different. Is that enough to warrant a recommendation? These days, and in this case, it is.