'The Returned' on Sundance: Zombie yarn a work of art

Clotilde Hesme plays Adèle , Pierre Perrier plays Simon in "The Returned," premiering Thursday. JEAN CLAUDE LOTHER / Sundance Channel
Clotilde Hesme plays Adèle , Pierre Perrier plays Simon in "The Returned," premiering Thursday. JEAN CLAUDE LOTHER / Sundance Channel
Posted: November 01, 2013

The camera pushes forward, taking us with it, across a deserted, wooded hilltop toward an inviting country house. We're transported through the door, along the hallway, and stop in front of a display case on the far wall.

It's a framed collection of butterflies. Marked by delicate wings yellow and blue, red and green, they are firmly affixed to the back board with pins.

Almost imperceptibly, one of the creatures stirs. It flaps its wings more deliberately now, and flies out. Crash! It goes through the glass, shattering it as it flies away.

That scene is a perfect distillation of the themes that pervade and haunt The Returned, an extraordinary, sublime mini-series premiering at 9 p.m. Thursday on the Sundance Channel.

Composed of progressive cycles of suspense, mystery, heartrending beauty, and terror, director Fabrice Gobert's eight-part French-language fable is about a small mountain community in France that begins to experience the spontaneous resurrection and return of deceased and buried townsfolk.

The Returned is inspired by Robin Campillo's 2004 feature film of the same name. Yet, while the film tracked a city's collective response to a phenomenon that affected the globe, the series is far more intimate, exploring the reaction of loved ones when confronted with each returnee.

Camille, a teen who died in a bus crash, is greeted with delight by her mother, who has prayed for this day for four years. Is her daughter an angel?

To others, the returned are demons. An elderly man who lost his wife when they were both young tries to kill her when she shows up still radiant in youth.

The Returned ups the ante on the usual run of ghost and zombie yarns by pulling up the genre into that rarefied region usually reserved for great works of art.

It's a deeply moving, unforgettable experience.


TELEVISION REVIEW

'The Returned'

9 p.m. Thursdays through Dec. 19 on Sundance Channel.


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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