We’re used to our zombies coming with green skin and raised arms, teeth gnashing as they storm their way through a town, chomping chaps as they go. But apparently, that’s all far too uncouth for Alpine France. In La Belle France the undead wander their way back into their former kitchens and make themselves a sandwich. Fromage jambon, anyone?
Camille died aged 15 after her school bus swerved to avoid hitting a little boy, and plunged off the side of a cliff. But now here she is, buttering bread as her mum watches on wide-eyed, hardly breathing. She’s come back from the dead along with a handful of other people – the boy the bus tried (and failed) to miss, someone who died three decades ago, another who committed suicide, a murderer – and none of them appear to have aged, nor know of their death.
So, they slip back into their old lives, trying to pull the shattered pieces back together as their loved ones struggle to understand or accept what has happened. And how can they, when there’s all these weird happenings? Fish are dying in the local reservoir, which is draining by the day. And perfectly healthy people look to be decaying, whilst those with fatal wounds are healing.
The whole series exists on this uneasy territory of supernatural suspense and lingering death. But despite all these uncanny occurrences, the show is less gory than you’d think. Here grief is the focus, as we watch the relatives of The Returned process the undoing of death. And this is where it becomes brilliant: the acting is next level, authentic and believable, meaning that as much as you want to process the obvious unanswered questioned – notably, what the…is going on here? – you don’t need them. And we have to give a special mention to the alpine aesthetics – the show is gorgeous, exploiting the mountain landscape at every opportunity and making sure that each shot is given just the right amount of light, and the perfect song, or more often silence. It’s beautiful and bizarre, and to be honest, really quite French.
So, this may not be for everyone, but it is for Lucy Mangan. In The Guardian, she calls The Returned a “brooding, surreal masterpiece,” and says that “by the end, you feel as if you have finished a beautiful, brilliant novel rather than a TV series.” She’s not alone in her thought, either. The New York Times’s James Poniewozik calls it “mesmerising,” saying “This is one case where French art-film aesthetics perfectly serve hair-raising entertainment.”
But are we at risk of all style, no substance? The Telegraph’s Gerard O’Donovan doesn’t think so. He reckons it’s “one of the best and most intriguing TV series around.”
First shown June 2013. You can watch the trailer here: