Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Returned: The Post-Zombie Future

This is why we really shouldn’t demonize pharmaceutical companies. We might really need them sometime, especially in the post-zombie future. Medical science has developed a cure for newly infected zombies. Naturally, there is a catch. It depends on a protein extracted from the spinal columns of full blown, incurable walking dead and must be administered shortly after contamination. However, as treatment improves, there are fewer sources of the serum and more cases requiring it. This leads to an inevitable problem of scarcity in Manuel Carballo’s The Returned (trailer here), which opens in Los Angeles this Friday.

You would think they would hardly notice an influx of zombies in Canada, but there is indeed a rabble rousing crowd of fear mongers making life difficult for Dr. Kate. She is the lead physician for her hospital’s “Returned” ward and a prominent fundraiser for synthesizing the serum. She also happens to be romantically linked with Alex Green, a Returned musician, whom she met while overseeing his treatment.

With stockpiles of the protein growing scarce, the mob is turning on the Returned and those who treat them. Things get really bad when a band of radicals attack her ward, making off with confidential Returned files.  Already exhausting their black market options, the doctor and her hipster patient will soon be forced to take desperate measures.

Clearly, the market for zombie-related entertainment remains undiminished if even the post-zombie scenario of BBC America’s In the Flesh is subject to the old “homage” treatment. At least series writer-creator Dominic Mitchell gives viewers a fair number of old school zombie flashbacks. In contrast, The Returned is distinctly light in the shuffling horde department, but it takes its message of tolerance painfully seriously.

As a zombie film almost entirely without zombies, The Returned is bound to disappoint the majority of zombie junkies. Still, Emily Hampshire and Kris Holden-Reid make a ridiculously attractive couple, who show flashes of chemistry in their scenes together. They are actually reasonably compelling when navigating the ethically ambiguous terrain of post-zombie (or maybe not so post) life.

To its credit, The Returned offers up a clever bit of business involving the Bela Lugosi near classic White Zombie (still under-appreciated as the granddaddy of all zombie movies). Frankly, it is a better vehicle for Hampshire than Good Neighbors, so it might lead to more work for her down Hollywood way. Regardless, Carballo really should have dialed down the teaching moments and ratcheted up the action around the midway point, instead of going all in for angst. The Returned is a competent production, but it is already late for the party. For die-hard Canadian zombie fans, it releases this Friday (2/14) in L.A. at the Laemmle Music Hall, just in time for Valentine’s Day.