The Returned episode 1 review: Camille

Review Louisa Mellor 9 Jun 2013 - 21:57

French supernatural thriller The Returned is one of the TV treats of the year so far. Here’s our review of the first episode…

This review contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review, here.

1.1 Camille

The Returned seems destined to sit alongside The Wire and The Killing as a drama whose broadsheet praise column inches will outnumber its UK viewers. The fact that it’s French won’t help. Daft Punk and Michel Roux Jr. aside, the last time the Great British public fell for a Francophone creation were those Papa Nicole Renault Clio ads. In the absence of catchy electronica, twinkly eyed Michelin star chefs, or suspiciously flirty father/daughter shenanigans then, what does The Returned have to offer?

In short, it’s tremendous television. Mysterious, beautiful, and unusual, The Returned is certainly the best-looking new drama to arrive this year, and if early signs don’t lie, we’ll soon be able to snip off that compound adjective’s second half.

There’s plenty to praise in terms of its composition and cinematic style, but the first episode also deftly balances story and character without resorting to clunky exposition. We’re left with any number of questions, but encouraged by this early show of quality that The Returned will answer them in good time. With a second series already commissioned in France, we’re also safe in the knowledge that there’s room enough to tell this story, and to do it well.

What then, is its story? The residents of an isolated mountain town are confronted by the reappearance of a handful of their dead. Said Returned turn up with nary a scratch on them, as if they’d never left. Some (Camille) have been gone for four years, others (Simon) - for ten, and at least one (Mrs Costa) for decades. Hungry and amnesiac, the dead have no idea what befell them, and no notion of life having moved on without them. This, to put it politely, knocks the living for six.

The exception at this point seems to be young ‘Victor’, the young Rowan Atkinson lookalike who attaches himself to Julie and whose appearance, we realise, hasn’t changed a day since four years earlier when he caused the coach carrying Camille and thirty-seven other schoolchildren to plummet over a mountain edge. Swann Nambotin, the young actor who plays Victor, excels at the one direction he appears to have been given in episode one: creep us the hell out, kid. 

Victor’s scenes, and to an extent those of Simon and the Miss Havisham-ish Adèle, showcase director Fabrice Gobert’s firm grasp of horror conventions. The uncanny lad emerges phantom-like behind Julie at the atmospherically neon-lit bus stop, then lurks in the back of the frame before appearing and disappearing in her darkened garden. How was Victor able to enter Julie’s building when Simon needed a key code? He’s not your common or garden living corpse it seems.

It’s not the scare tricks that make The Returned special, moreover its beautiful light, composition, soundtrack, and of course, location. The remake rights having been sold to a number of territories, (including a forthcoming UK version by Paul Abbott’s production company), it’s difficult to picture how multiple settings can be found that combine that mountainous landscape’s sense of the Romantic sublime with the vast blankness of the concrete dam and modern dwellings. The Yorkshire moors perhaps? The Scottish highlands? Wherever is chosen to retell this story abroad, it has a great deal to live up to.

As will the remakes’ directing teams. The Returned builds its atmosphere slowly and elegantly, making use of the eerie nature of stillness, reflections, and lingering just a second too long for comfort. It’s no surprise that David Lynch (Twin Peaks) and Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) aside, Gobert cites photography as one of his chief visual influences. His establishing and wide interior shots, such as those inside Camille’s house in episode one, pay homage to US photographer Gregory Crewdson, most commercially recognised perhaps for his appealingly unnerving portrait of Six Feet Under’s Fisher family used to promote the show’s third season.

Similarly hard to imagine is a soundtrack that rivals Mogwai’s sparse motifs and fuzzy sustained score without ripping it off. Composed by the Scottish post-rock group on the basis of a Skype call with the director and two episode scripts, Mogwai’s score is stirred through The Returned, just as much inspired by the show, as having inspired it. Does it, like the Broadchurch soundtrack, contain clues to solve the show's mysteries? With track titles like Eagle Tax, Portugal and Wizard Motor, it seems unlikely. Then again, this cult French supernatural drama is the first of its kind. Anything’s possible.

By the end of episode one, it’s clear that The Returned is no more a zombie show than Let the Right One In was just a vampire flick. Its slant so far is on the emotional reactions of the living to the return of their loved ones, not slashing and splashing undead brains. That much is clear from the understated reunion scene between Camille and her mother, which keeps close focus on the latter’s bewildered, overwhelmed expression.

Not that we should become too comfortable with the idea of The Returned as heightened family drama. Lucy meeting a violent end at the hands of that anonymous killer introduces a thriller thread to stimulate a different part of our brains, one with a taste for a less existential kind of intrigue.

Read our interview with The Returned’s director, Fabrice Gobert, and producer, Caroline Benjo, here.

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Brilliant. Cannot wait for the next episode. Creepiest child of the year award goes to Victor

Great episode (despite the constant f**king ad breaks!) Really looking forward to seeing where this series goes. Was I only one expecting Lucy to wake up after being stabbed to death? Also, Victor is terrifying!

Yep, truly the only bearable way to watch things like this is to record, then watch later, so you can fast-forward through all the ads.

I liked it a lot and will deifnitely be tuning in next week. I sighed a bit when the trope of 'twins sharing experiences' cropped up. Then I remembered that I was watching a show about the dead returning to life and that a sense of perspective might be needed!
Anyhow, it was perfectly paced and beautifully shot. Can't wait for the next one.

Great firt episode totaly with you on the adverts

I watched the entire season not long ago, in one sitting. Truly an uncomfortable and unsettling show, I've never been affected in such a way before. The only thing I'm left wondering is whether the French are really so rude and unlikable in real life? I very much disliked every character in the show, yet still that might have just added to the unsettling nature.

No Master DLG, they are not. I have family and friends who live in France and I visit frequently.
Judging a nation via characters on a fictional TV show is not the best idea. It would be like a non-Brit asking if we're all like the characters in EastEnders. ;o)

Well, that's why I asked. I thought it may just be a language/cultural thing where it would seem perfectly fine over there but to us not so much. I guess it must be intentional, what a depressing town indeed.

No worries! Happy to help if I can.

This was a brilliant opener and very intriguing. Victor made me double-check my doors were locked - what with The Fall tonight I'm probably going to be sleeping with the lights on next...

I've managed to watch the entire series and it is truly a brilliant tv show. You'll be desperate to know what's going on by the final few episodes. Big shout to Mogwai for creating a wonderful soundtrack which fits perfectly with the eerie, mysterious goings-on.

You have to take in account the amount of horrific experiences the town has experienced. The coach crash alone would have decimated a small community... and that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Impressive... made all the more eerie by a fantastic soundtrack by Mogwai.

I had to re-watch the Camille/Lena scene about 5 times. Powerful stuff, seeing Camille's gradual realization...

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