The Thinking Man’s Zombie

Willa Paskin praises the French show The Returned – premiering tonight on the Sundance channel – as an eerie, contemplative alternative to the bloody orgy that is The Walking Dead:

[It’s] about people who have come back from the dead, but they neither hanker for brains nor have no brains themselves, qualities I consider definitional for zombies. The previously deceased on The Returned appear normal, sentient, seemingly healthy, as troubled by the meaning of their reanimation as everyone else around them. Unlike with zombie stories, the problem with The Returned’s resurrected is not that they are undead—it is that they are all too alive. …

The people they come back to have always changed more than the dead themselves.

A young man (the exceedingly handsome Pierre Perrier) who died the day of his wedding appears as his fiancée (a fragile Clotilde Hesme) is about to remarry. A small boy attaches himself to an isolated female doctor (Celine Sallette). A murderer comes back. The dead are connected to the living in various graceful and complicated ways that I will not spoil for you, but suffice it to say that as stately as The Returned is, I definitely wanted to know what happened next. Meanwhile, the water level in the town is dropping dramatically, the lights keep flickering, none of the newly living are sleeping very much, and everyone keeps wondering if this is a sign of the resurrection—Jesus came back from the dead once, after all—or something less reassuring. “Are we sure I’m not a zombie?” Camille asks at one point, and it is the fact of her not zombie-ness that gives The Returned its deliciously shivery quality: Zombies are scary but familiar; who knows what Camille is?