Monday, July 6, 2009

They Came Back (Les Revenants)


Yes, this is technically a zombie movie. Yes, this involves the recently deceased emerging from their graves and returning to life. Yes, it is French.

Here, though, the comparisons to Jean Rollin's godawful Zombie Lake end. Because Les Revenants isn't your standard zombie movie, it isn't really a horror film at all. It is however, very, very French.

In much the same way that the recent (and wonderful) Let The Right One In manages to be a vampire film without really being about the routine vampire-mythology horror clichés, Les Revenants takes a very different approach to the zombie film.

We'll start with the zombies themselves: what most films seem to overlook when bringing the recently deceased back to life is that, by and large, the recently deceased are likely to be, well, a bit old. So here, instead of having legions of youths dragging themselves out of their graves, we have a horde of the grey undead, 65% of whom are over 60...

Secondly, the fairly major distinction between this and pretty much all other zombie films is that the freshly reanimated have no lust for blood or brains whatsoever. They simply want to return to their lives. This has some pretty awkward results; most of their families have mourned them as dead and are at a bit of a loss as to how to suddenly factor all these people back into their lives. How do you interact with your (until recently) dead wife? They also pose a bit of a problem for the whole town, with 13,000 returning, the massive increase in numbers throwing the balance of the population. They're housed in community centres, helped as if they were refugees arriving from war torn lands.

The film then, is about the relationships that are re-awakened by the return of the dead; we focus mainly on two husband-wife relationaships and a child returning to his bereaved parents. That's not to say the film isn't creepy. There may be no gore, no moments of shock and horror, but there are several distinctly unsettling moments of suspense. The child in particular is creepy as anything...

As well as this focus on how we deal with loss and personal tragedy, the film asks about what it is to be alive; we are told that those who return have incomplete personalities, that everything they say and do is just a re-hashed version of what they remember doing, that they are incapable of original thought. So are they alive? All they can do is follow a set of responses that are borne out of their memories but... isn't that what we all are?

So farm so good. Now we move to it's French-ness. The film is beautiful. The film is thought provoking. The film is full of suspense. The film is SLOW. So very little actually happens that it really does drag a bit.

The film is novel, unsettling and beautiful but ultimately flawed. Not creepy enough to scare you and not quite intense enough to justify one and three quarter hours of undivided attention. It's definitely worth a watch and it will make you think, but I doubt it'll change your world.

(Haven't been able to find a trailer...)

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