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DVD REVIEW:  The Return

I would like to begin by saying that I have always had the utmost respect for actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and have been a loyal fan of hers since the very beginning of her days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, in the past few years, her choice of movies to lend her talent to has become increasingly more questionable, in my opinion. Perhaps she is simply not being offered the roles she would be more suited for due to being typecast as the blonde bombshell vampire slayer? Or, perhaps, she is trying to make an artistic statement by going with smaller budget film productions of the obscure variety? Either way, I find myself disappointed with her movies more and more, The Return not being an exception. I truly had high hopes for this movie when I came across it in Blockbuster a couple of days ago. Between the brilliantly creepy cover art and the blurbs on the back pronouncing the flick to be a “shocking, non-stop supernatural thriller unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before” with an “alternate ending too shocking for the big screen” (was this movie ever on the big screen to begin with?) I was set to be clinging to the ceiling fan by then end of the one hour and twenty-six minutes. Unfortunately, my experience was exactly the opposite. In fact, my friend who chose to watch the film with me actually fell asleep half way through the movie despite the occasional scream or explosion from the television and I was yawning and checking my watch repeatedly by the end… Not a good sign for a “supernatural thriller”.

The Return, by director Asif Kapadia and writer Adam Sussman, follows a young woman named Joanna Mills (Gellar), a representative of a transportation company, as she returns to Texas after fifteen years of running from the terrible visions of a woman’s murder that have haunted her since she was a small child. The visions have caused her to become a “cutter”, compulsively self-inflicting wounds with her boot knife each time she feels one coming on. Once she reaches the depths of rural south Texas, a small town called La Salle, the visions intensify until she is barely able to distinguish between reality and hallucination, leading her to a strange friendship with a man she soon realizes to be the widowed husband of the dead woman. Unable to muster the will to leave the town, Mills becomes obsessed with the desire to put an end to the visions by solving the murder of the unidentified woman. Her investigation leads her back to the farmhouse where the murder occurred, placing Mills in nearly the same situation that led to the original death after she tracks down the man responsible…

Murder, ghosts and small Texas towns are often winning combinations for horror movies. The wide open sparsely populated plains, the ramshackle houses and abandoned old mills, the creepy backwoods denizens with their pension for slurred speech, dirty clothes and booze; combined with the terrifying visions of a murder should have been the perfect setting for one creepy thriller. Alas, there simply was not enough storyline within The Return to allow for ample build of tension to keep the viewer on the edge of the seat. The movie is slow to escalate; the first true action does not occur until well over half an hour into the film. Before that, the movie is quiet and dull with sparse dialog, weak sprinklings of supernatural elements and a confusing plotline that does little to explain who Joanna Mills is or why she is terrified to return to her hometown. Even after the movie introduces its first semi interesting action scene, the script does not truly pick up pace until about the last ten minutes with a short lived chase scene that ends with an anticlimactic fight and dismal, boring ending. Alternating between dull images of the almost deserted town and long moments of Mills appearing confused and slightly afraid, The Return fails to draw the viewer, its all too subtle, ethereal approach far too gentle for a tale of murder and ghostly vengeance. Even the performances given by Sarah Michelle Gellar and her co-star, Peter O’Brien, are bland and hollow without true conviction or emotional depth. If they are tortured or terrified, it’s hard to tell through most of the movie. Perhaps they were as bored with the movie as I was? I truly hope that Gellar is given the opportunity to flex her acting muscles on something with a stronger backbone in the future. The slow-paced, cerebral ghost stories are simply not a good venue for her abilities and movies, such as The Return, should be returned to the shelves to collect dust where they belong.

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