The Return (Asif Kapadia, 2006)
Everyone loves a good mystery. Unless, that is, it’s marketed like a horror film. Sarah Michelle Gellar was coming off the commercial successes of The Grudge and The Grudge 2, so I guess someone in The Return‘s marketing department decided “hey, we should come up with a poster that will draw the Grudge crowd”. Bad idea. The movie was excoriated by the press (16% at Rotten Tomatoes critical) and the public (32% RT public, 4.8 at IMDB) alike. I…didn’t think it was all that bad. It wasn’t anything new, but we’re talking about Hollywood here. What is?
Kapadia (Senna) and screenwriter Adam Sussman, turning in his first feature, give us the story of Joanna Mills (Gellar), a saleswoman who heads back to rural Texas, where she grew up, to try and score some business for the shipping company she works for. When she gets back near where she grew up, she starts seeing things that are…out of the ordinary. We know from the opening scene, which takes place when Joanna is young, that she was emotionally unstable as a child thanks to a terrifying car accident, and we can assume the visions she sees have to do with that; she beings to put together the events of that night with some help from a local, Terry Stahl (X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘s Peter O’Brien), who is embroiled in a mystery of his own; the rest of the town he lives in believes he killed his wife Annie (Fast Food Nation‘s Erinn Allison). He proclaims his innocence. Hey, two mysteries are better than one—and the more Joanna is drawn into Terry’s story, the more she begins to feel as if she were somehow related to it.
Sure, it’s contrived, and some of it is downright ridiculous, but it’s not like you haven’t seen this done worse dozens of times. (Hundreds, if you watch Lifetime or Hallmark.) You’ll get a lot more out of it, I think, if you just dispense with the supernatural aspect of the movie altogether (that’s the most contrived part) and just think of it as a straight mystery. It works that way, and it works well enough to kill and hour and a half with if you just want to turn your brain off and have a good time. Not timeless cinema by any means, but not as bad as you probably heard it was. ** ½