Return, The (2006)

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 11/11/06 14:19:32

"Sarah Plain And Dull"
1 stars (Sucks)

“The Return” may not necessarily be the worst supernatural thriller ever made–though I wouldn’t exactly launch a passionate defense if someone were to make such an argument–but there is a very good chance that it could well be the single most boring example of such a film that I have ever seen. Imagine a below-average episode of “The Twilight Zone” that has been stretched nearly four times its normal length, directed by someone with no feeling for the genre and performed by virtually comatose actors and you’ll begin to grasp the utter lethargy that surrounds this project. I’m not surprised that the studio declined to screen it in advance for critics–what surprises me is that editor Claire Simpson was able to stay awake while wading through the lethargic footage long enough to piece it together into something resembling a feature film.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, who has apparently given up trying to move away from horror-related projects in her post-“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” career, stars as Joanna, a glum workaholic who has returned to her home state of Texas after many years in order to close a big business deal. While there, she begins to have strange and discomforting visions involving a town she has never visited, a bar she has never sat in and people that she has never seen before. When a visit with her estranged father (Sam Shepard in a throwaway bit) doesn’t shed any light on the subject, she gets back into her car, drives back to St. Louis and lives happily ever after doing whatever the hell it is she does. Just kidding. Instead, she does what any of us would do in the same situation–she looks up the town, checks into the creepiest hotel in the area (imagine a podunk version of the Overlook) and tries to get to the bottom of what her visions are supposed to mean. Without going into too much detail (much like the rest of the film), everything comes together in a “surprise” ending that is so poorly conceived and executed that it almost makes you want to get a hold of M. Night Shyamalan and tell him that all is forgiven.

All of this is done in such a dull and dragged-out fashion that even though the film clocks in at about 85 minutes, it feels at least twice as long. Part of the problem is that while it becomes fairly obvious early on what is going on, screenwriter Adam Sussman tries to throw viewers off the scent by adding in such absurd red herrings as a loutish co-worker of Joanna’s (Adam Scott) who somehow turns up in the town as well in an attempt to rape her as revenge for getting the client lead that he wanted. (If you ever wanted to see a poorly-devised mash-up of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Oleanna,” here’s your chance.) And yet, he can’t figure out any plausible way to wind up his story so he just plunks Joanna in the path of a heretofore unknown character who has inexplicably kept a piece of incriminating evidence on hand for her to find after having a vision of something that she couldn’t possibly have had a vision of in the first place. And while the screenplay seems to have been cobbled together entirely from pieces of other, better films, director Asif Kapadia directs it in such a drab, dull-witted fashion that it feels as if he has never even seen a supernatural thriller before–he has no idea how to build tension or create any genuine sense of fear or unease and scene after scene winds up choking in the dust as a result. He doesn’t get much help from his cast either as everyone, including the normally likable Gellar, goes through their paces with such a scarcity of energy or excitement (did they realize early on they were in a dog and simply act accordingly?) that the normally taciturn Sam Shepard winds up being the film’s live wire by default.

“The Return” is a film so formless and pointless that you may find yourself wondering who the target audience was supposed to be. After all, it is far too derivative and idiotic for genre fans, too boring for shock-happy teens looking to blow their milk money and “Buffy” fans will likely be disturbed by the sight of their beloved Sarah Michelle Gellar moping around like a bump on a log for more than an hour. On the other hand, based on the lack of publicity and the unenthusiastic audience response at the screening I attended, it won’t be around long enough for you to waste too much of your time speculating on why it was made in the first place

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