Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Les Revenants (They Came Back)

--Reviewed by Lindy Loo

One could very easily argue that this is not in fact a horror movie, and they'd have a very legitimate case. However, Les Revenants *IS* technically a zombie movie (or has been promoted as one, though the term "revenant" can also mean "ghost"--yes, I was a child obsessed with all things supernatural, and I remember reading this when I was young). So I post a review here and if you see it, I'll let *you* be the judge.

Plotline: One day, everyone wakes up to find that the newly-dead have returned from the grave. But not in any sort of Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later kind of way. They are non-violent. They are non-decaying. They have just returned as though nothing had ever happened. The government takes the time to figure out how to deal with this, treating the awakened as though they were a batch of survivors expelled from their community by a tornado or some such thing--they reincorporate the revenants back into their old jobs, they study them, they try to reincorporate them back into their community. But there is something slightly-off with those who have returned. Just small things: lower body temperatures, the fact that they don't *actually* sleep (they just pretend to), their slow responses in situations. And soon the humans in the community start to grow leery as it becomes clear that the revenants are being drawn towards something.

Scariness factor: This movie will not make you jump in your seat at all. It will not make you feel the urge to flick on all the lights in your house. It is by no means scary in a traditional-horror kind of way. But it *is* spooky, in a quiet, careful way. The normalcy with which it treats the return of the dead (the "realness" of the movie) is frightening and haunting at times.

Gross-Out Factor: Nil. Absolutely not a gross moment in the movie.

Complaints: I really have none. The only thing I think one could legitimately get up in arms about with regard to this movie is the promotion--many will go in thinking it is a full-on zombie flick only to be sorely disappointed when they find absolutely no intense action, no bloodshed, no death. It *is* perhaps a zombie-flick, but it is perhaps arguably moreso a drama than a horror film. My only other miniscule complaint is one single shot towards the end of the movie--the "fading," if you will (you will know it when you see it, but I give nothing away here). With the strength of the rest of the movie, it seemed a bit weak.

High Points: I was transfixed by this movie. They treat the return of the dead with such normalcy and such delicacy that it seems bizarrely realistic and honest. The movie is truly haunting, though not in a traditional horror kind of way. What is haunting is the notion of non-violent, non-aggressive dead people returning from beyond to those still living--how folks who've gone through the grieving process must deal with the reintroduction of these people into their lives, and how it throws them for a loop to do so (for obvious reasons). There were many moments that actually gave me chills, they were done so well and were so poignant. And all in the realm of a very desperate realism.

And the actual scenes of the "zombies" moving through the city en masse were like beautiful pieces of choreography. The cinematography on this film was beautifully impressive.

And thematically, the movie was a very complex and interesting one. I am still wracking my brain to fully understand what it was trying to say, and that is (of course) rare for a horror flick. Many zombie movies seem to use zombies to hint at the notion of us living people actually being dead in our own way (that we walk like zombies through life, that we act like automatons at times, etc.), but this movie handled it differently. Instead of trying to use the dead to reveal our own deadness, it seemed to use the dead to reaffirm how fully fully alive we are. The final shot of the film seemed to cinch this thematically to me (at least in my opinion). The revenants are the same as other people for the most part, but there are some clear clear areas of differentiation, and this calls into question what makes us definitively human. It calls into question what reality is. It calls into question how and why death defines us. It explores the essence of grief. And that is one of the most beautiful themes in the movie--each person deals with the return of their loved ones differently. Each one deals with death differently. And how they do so, and how the film deals with the return of the dead, seems to explore the ways in which death defines us and reinforces the essence of human life.

Seriously, I could go on and on about this as the movie is beautifully deep and surprisingly touching for an alleged zombie movie. But I shan't. Just take from this that the movie has gorgeous cinematography, beautifully choreographed moments and heartbreaking, tender moments, and explores the notion of death and the living in complex and interesting ways.

Overall: I was impressed. This is a quiet, slow-paced, subtle movie. It is definitely no Dawn of the Dead. But it is exactly this subtle, slow pace that makes the return of the dead all the more haunting. It is the realism of the movie that is terrifying. But again, I warn you--if you go in hoping for something fast-paced, horrifying, and heart-thumping, you will be sorely disappointed. That being said, I highly recommend.

Grade: A



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