Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'The Return' isn't really worth the trip

The Return (2006)
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Peter O'Brien, Sam Shepard, J.C. MacKenzie, and Adam Scott
Director: Asif Kapadia
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A traveling sales-rep (Gellar) starts having strange dreams and visions when she returns to Texas for the first time in years. When she tries to unlock a mystery that dates to her childhood, she finds herself remembering places she's never been before, and eventually being haunted by phantom voices and stalked by a phantom killer. Will she uncover the truth before she completely loses her mind?

"The Return" had a lot of potential. It still does, if someone were to edit it down to about 53 minutes. It's got good acting, gorgeous cinematography and production design, and a decent (if obvious and predictable) story... but everything is draaaaaged out and the result is that the movie is boooooooring. What tension is built disspates over drawn-out sequences, and subsequently any pay-off feels either pointless or forced.

In fact, because the movie is such a meandering mess, the whole experience is one of emptiness and pointlessness. It's neither scary nor romantic enough to birng about the sort of emotions in the viewer that it is hoping to inspire. Even the climax--where this feeling should dissipate and be replaced with relief and maybe even happiness--has an empty sort of feeling to it. (I wish I could explain more, but doing so might give the movie away completely... and I try not to give too many spoilers in this forum.)

The film also suffers from the fact that we don't really get to know any of the characters in it. Even Gellar's character is a bit of a cypher... although given her nature that's forgivable. But her father, her "rescuer", and even her pursuer should have been developed more. This might have helped to raise the tension a bit, and it might even have helped justify the running time.

"The Return" would have made a great "Twilight Zone" or "Night Gallery" episode. It could even have been a decent movie--all the elements are here, they're just not used properly. As it stands, the film is worth seeing so you can admire the beautiful camerawork and production design. Just don't expect an exciting viewing experience.

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