The Return
Rogue Pictures // PG-13 // November 10, 2006
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted November 13, 2006
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Traveling to Texas to close an important business deal, Joanna (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is haunted by disturbing images she doesn't understand. Compelled to stop in a small town to feed her curiosity about the nightmarish visions, Joanna soon uncovers clues that she might have a higher purpose during this trip than she previously believed.

No matter what "The Return" does to kill its running time, the only goal it has is to stay ahead of the audience at all costs. This is a "supernatural thriller" about murder, ghosts, and the vagaries of the afterlife. With that unsophisticated recipe, it's too bad we're not watching an old "X-Files" episode, because as a feature film, "The Return" is a horrendous stab at spooking an audience.

The troubles start with the screenplay by Adam Sussman, which furiously cheats and cautiously sidesteps basic narrative information to deliberately keep the audience in the dark about just what the heck is haunting Joanna. Where's the fun in that? There's no sense of mystery, no tease of macabre details, and zero construction of interesting personalities with a sense of even elementary cinematic purpose. It's all one big smudge of empty mood, thinly-drawn (and that's being nice) characters, and time-killing, pointless scare sequences leading up to a bloated twist finale that could only be met with a roll of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders, and a hasty bolt from the theater seat.

Director Asif Kapadia doesn't inject any life into Sussman's comatose tale, instead encouraging the writer's lack of imagination with his own lethargic take on the thriller formula. Kapadia doesn't direct the film as much as he survives it, taking his sweet time to go utterly nowhere, serving up every moldy, insulting suspense trick in the book to keep the audience conscious. Like Sussman, Kapadia doesn't comprehend that the viewer needs to be sucked into the mystery inch by inch for the thrills to follow. These guys think just tossing around boo scares or jiggling the camera hard when in close-up on Gellar is more than enough effort to achieve their embarrassingly limited goals.

"The Return" might not offend with its soaring stupidity quite like other appalling horror offerings this year, but I've not witnessed a more torturously boring, convoluted, and eye-wateringly moronic chiller this year. If you must see this genre abortion, do yourself a favor and bring a pillow. You will need it.



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