AUGUST 15, 2009
Mr. Disgusting is always looking for lists to run on Bloody D, so maybe I will put together a list of horror films with terrific sounding concepts but largely failed executions. And at the top of that list, I think, would be They Came Back (French: Les Revenants), in which 70 million people return from the dead across the globe. But they do not eat other folks, nor do they look horrific. They also seem to retain their basic communication and motor skills. The problem is, they don’t do ANYTHING.
Within 10 minutes I had dubbed this the “Frenchest movie ever made”, and nothing about the following 90 changed my mind. A sizable majority of the film is little more than people looking at each other, walking around, and/or engaging in pleasant small talk at a level hardly over that of a whisper. Christ, even the government is incredibly delicate - instead of installing cameras around the town to watch the zombies, they put them on balloons. It’s a coffee table zombie movie.
Part of the problem is the ensemble nature. We follow 3-4 zombies as they re-adjust to their life (or try to), but we also follow the government’s attempts at controlling them (via medications and the aforementioned Up-brand cameras), plus lots of scenes of many anonymous zombies just sort of wandering around. As a result, none of the stories are really that compelling, because the characters aren’t really developed beyond their basic relationship with the zombie (i.e. Mathieu, a zombie, was married to Rachel, who works in a hospital and has really beautiful eyes. And that’s about all we know). A film like Deathdream was far more successful at portraying what life was like for both the returning person and their family, and did it with some zombie action to boot.
And that’s the other thing. I knew it wasn’t going to be Romero-esque splatter horror, but for the love of Mike, throw us a bone here. Even the finale, in which the zombies are more or less gassed back into death, isn’t prompted by any real event. They don’t start eating people or infecting them or anything of that nature. No, it is discovered that they don’t have the capability to learn or fully adjust, so they are done away with. And even that would be fine if it was presented in a sort of black comic manner, but it’s so matter-of-fact and humorless, it doesn’t even really resonate as a chilling concept. Since most of the zombies are old people, the film could have had a fascinating metaphor for how we treat our elderly once they are no longer able to do manual labor, drive, etc. but the screenwriters never really draw this parallel.
And it’s kind of a ripoff too - I actually thought that the only people who returned were ones who died from natural or health related causes (old age, cancer, etc), because none of them bore any sort of physical trauma. But we find out that our main guy died in a car accident, so why doesn’t he have any visible wounds? Give us a scar or something at least. And unless I missed it, they don’t explain why someone who was obviously injured enough to die from a car accident looks perfectly healthy and undamaged.
Despite all that, it’s not a total loss. There are some effective scenes (usually involving the zombies doing something inappropriate, like when one keeps spinning a little kid on a merry go round), the score is often fantastic, and the concept, despite its largely botched execution, is still a lot more interesting than the umpteenth “The dead are returning let’s hole up in a _____ and bicker with each other” zombie story. It might not be very good, but its at least DIFFERENT, which earns it a few brownie points.
Oh and a little kid zombie kills himself, so there’s something.
The disc's only real extra is a 20 minute making of, which like the film itself, suffers from a lack of any real drive (as well an abhorrent absence of someone yelling “Sacre bleu!”, which should be a requirement for any French language film). We see them set up some shots, the actors talk about their roles... and that’s about it. You won’t gain any insight into the script/story, so unless you found the 105 minute film to be too short and crave more existential French zombie non-action, feel free to skip it.
What say you?