Saturday, December 8, 2007


I really wanted to like THEY CAME BACK, a 2004 French film from director Robin Campillo. On the surface it appears to be a cerebral and philosophical take on the zombie story, but in actuality it's a tedious, endlessly frustrating series of vignettes masquerading as an arthouse film.

The premise of the movie involves a great number of deceased citizens inexplicably returning to life and attempting to reintegrate into society. Local government tries to deal with the situation, finding shelter for the returnees, as well as replacing the jobs they held in life. We also meet a handful of people who find themselves reunited with lost loved ones--husbands, wives, children, etc.

All of which sounds like it would make for fascinating viewing, even if it wasn't going for a visceral, horrifically-minded approach (which it clearly isn't, treating the zombies more as refugees than as objects of fear). However, the film prefers to pose questions instead of answering them; the returnees conveniently have no memory of being dead, so any notion of the afterlife goes unaddressed. No one on either end of return seems dramatically changed by the event (I'd image the psychological impact of suddenly being alive again would make for compelling drama), and we spent most of our time watching characters interact in slow, meaningless conversations, or sitting in on city council-like meetings as various issues are discussed. Toward the end one of the returnees starts to remember an argument with his wife before his death, but if the movie's message is simply to not let conflicts go unresolved, it's chosen the wrong medium.

The story implies a dark turn as it progresses, though the worst the situation gets is the returnees suffer from insomnia and start to wander at night (they do eventually turn "aggressive," blowing up a couple of buildings without hurting anyone before retreating en masse to an underground network of tunnels for an unsatisfying ending).

Slow and unengaging, THEY CAME BACK wastes the potential of its premise. If we're supposed to question what it means to be mortal, or understand when it's time it's time to let go of a loved one, then the film fails on a philosophical level as well. (The least Campillo could've done was echo Jean Rollin's approach with THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, which mixed equal parts gore and introspection.)

The arthouse crowd may get something out of this, but horror geeks should stay the hell away.

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