TV review: Pleasantly surprised by a very unexpected return of the zombies
The French series The Returned is a proper ghost story instead of a zombiefest
Saturated with atmosphere: The Returned moved glacially but packed a lot of story into its opening episode
I was well into the first episode of The Returned (Channel 4, Sunday), enjoying the Frenchness of it all – moody lighting, meaningful stares, cryptic dialogue – before I realised I was watching a zombie drama. It was more than slightly disconcerting, as, apart from the occasional peek at the unambiguously named The Walking Dead (which US critics have nominated for programme of the year: there’s a lot of love for zombies out there), it’s a genre I tend to avoid.
In the first scene of The Returned we saw a teenager, Camille, plunge over an Alpine ravine in her school bus. Even when she appeared back home, four years after the accident, it wasn’t entirely clear that she was undead. But as Camille went about her teenage business of snacking, wondering if there was hot water for a bath and apologising for being late home from the school trip, her mother understandably freaked out and summoned her estranged husband, Jerome.
But then a bereavement counsellor arrived, talked to Camille and used the word “resurrection”. Soon other dead people were appearing all over the ghostly-quiet French town, each looking in rude health.
There was Simon, standing in front of his gravestone. (We, and maybe he, learned that he died in 2002.) He was back in search of his girlfriend, who had moved on. She felt his presence, as the bereaved do, but wasn’t quite ready for him to knock on her door.
There was old Mr Costa, so shocked by the return of his dead wife after decades that he set fire to his mountain cabin and jumped into the town’s dam. When the firefighters put out the flames they found no trace of her body.
There was the mute boy who arrived at the doctor’s apartment. He might hold the key to the whole thing – in the final scene we see that he caused the bus crash – or could the key be a brutal murder in an underpass?
The Returned – or Les Revenants in France, where it was hugely popular last year – moved glacially but packed a lot of story into its atmosphere-saturated opener. The central question is why the dead have returned. There’s no hint yet, but presumably over the eight episodes we’ll find out.
As the themes of grief and loss rose to the surface, the Mogwai soundtrack a perfect accompaniment to the building eeriness, it started to feel more like a complex ghost story than your typical eyeball-hanging-out-of-the-socket zombiefest. It’s one to watch.
The final episode of the Belfast-set serial-killer drama The Fall (RTÉ One, Sunday; BBC Two, Monday) was even tenser than the four episodes that had gone before. In the end the killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, in a career calling card of a role), escaped in the family-man way he had presented to the world, heading for the ferry with wife and kids in their packed car, looking like any other family off on holidays.
There were several points in the cleverly constructed episode when it looked like he’d be caught, including a hold-your-breath moment when he presented himself at the police station for routine questioning. The evidence was falling into place for DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), but there were many women in his life who could, at any moment, figure it out too: his wife, the teenage babysitter, the bereaved woman he was counselling, even his young daughter, who had seen so much.