Les Revenants (They Came Back)

Title: Les Revenants (They Came Back)
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Mystery, Psychological Horror
Director: Robin Campillo
Starring: Géraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccaï
Language: French

Usually, when people say “I wish he/she was here” or “I wish I could hold him/her just one more time” when talking about their departed, they don’t really expect for such an event to take place. However, to the awe of all, people in this film are confronted by these possibilities as millions of dead people around the world return back from the grave, as they were, expecting and desiring to continue on with their lives as they have left it. Taking place in a small French town, we see what I believe to be a redefinition of the “zombie” genre as this town struggles to cope with such a phenomenon. Focusing more on the emotional and the psychological side, Campillo wittingly poses several philosophical dilemmas that inspire the viewer to think and to wonder. However, while presenting such potential, the film seemed to me lacking fulfilling what I had hoped for, and ends up leaving the viewer confused at the end, as he/she was in the beginning. “I wish I could hold her just one more time.” Well, will a mother hold her baby daughter after seeing her again years after her death, as if time didn’t pass, nor did the bell toll? That’s the key motif of this film.

From the very start, we see people walking out from cemeteries, wearing the clothes they were buried in. Some of them are kids, some are young, but most of them are old. Shocked by such a phenomenon, the town holds a meeting to decide how to react. If any one expects that, by the notion of people coming back from the death, this film to be about a zombie apocalypse in the Romero sense, then this film isn’t for you. I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere which Campillo creates here. Are they dead? Are they alive? Are they in the middle? We are left to wonder. A mother being presented with her baby daughter as she was, a couple with their son who has been dead for years, a widow meets her husband again… Al these are examples in the cases studied by the film here. Campillo, who wrote the script also, was clever in portraying such encounters. Furthermore, he avoided turning this film into satire by not pretending as if these people were on a vacation, then returned and were greeted cheerfully by their loved ones. Something has happened. He goes on to create a feeling of alienation, of “us” and “them”. All this, while still keeping us wondering about the meaning of it all. Both sides of the actors, the living and the “dead”, did a good job in general. Some of them were convincing to me, while others of the living seemed deader than the “dead”. The acting here I believe was meant to be seen as a collective performance, not several shiny ones.

Nevertheless, as much as I enjoyed the concept, I still felt the film was lacking in potential, having several points in the narrative that bothered me. You’d expect people coming out of graves, some have been there for several years, to appear, well, dead. However, most of them appear as if they came out of beauty salons. Even their clothes were neat. On another note, I did find the script weak at some points by being too simplistic. Yes I did find it interesting in examining how would the town deal with such a situation, for instance whether they are qualified for work or not so that the town won’t suffer economically, yet the fact remains, I don’t think it’s the town’s most important ordeal here. Instead of trying to solve the riddle behind this, or handling it even with more care, it was dealt with frivolously. Even the medical tests that were given seemed superficial to me. In the end, Campillo did a good job on the psychological and emotional side of the film I believe, however, it could have been a lot better on other sides. I just wish he had explored all of the sides, and not just one.

In conclusion, this is a thought-film. I believe it in fact to be the most unique “zombie” film I saw in its unorthodox story line for its genre. As a philosophical film, it worked well in my view. However, it still seemed lacking to me. Even at the end of the end, there isn’t really a resolution and we are left bewildered, yet at least with a couple of thoughts in our heads to keep us company. Those who wish to experience the zombie genre in a different way should definitely watch this, on the other hand, those who anticipate flesh eating mania should simply stay away as not a single drop of blood is shed, nor even the word “zombie” is mentioned. In the end, it was a good film with its dilemmas of mortality, death, and life.


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