Thursday, March 6, 2008

They Came Back (Les Revenants, 2004)

The meaning of the word "zombie" seems to have been bastardised in movies. The godfather of all zombie filmmakers, George A. Romero, is partly to blame for that. Zombies, by definition, don't necessarily try to convert the living to the living dead, as they are wont to do in Romero's "Dead" movies. Using poetic license to create drama is the very essence of art, yet sometimes it feels like the poetic license should be suspended for an indefinite period in Hollywood.

When Danny Boyle's refreshingly original take on the genre came out in 2002, it once again became fashionable to make zombie movies. Heck, even Romero came back from retirement to make Land of the Dead (2005). What made Boyle's 28 Days Later so different from the rest of the flock was its 'look', not the 'content'. Shaun of the Dead (2004) - another 'revolutionary' example of the genre - took things to another level and introduced the term "rom-com-zom" - and other permutations - to our lexicon. Yet, at the end of the day, quoting Stephen King, it was SSDD (same shit, different day).

Robin Campillo's They Came Back is another breath of fresh air and injects a much-needed boost to the genre. In contemporary France, the dead inexplicably rise from their graves. They are slowly re-integrated into society, but there is still something different about them that makes it hard to connect to the living. These are not bloodthirsty, vampiric, rotting dead people, just your run-of-the-mill citizens - young, old, beautiful, ugly, smart, dumb.

The opening scenes, with hundreds of people walking in an impossibly slow pace along the streets and the crowds staring at them, are simply magnificent. The cinematography is top-notch all the way through, especially the scene at the car park with the mayor and his wife. The dead are shown from all angles and they give an eerie feeling that no make-up can achieve.

However, my excitement soon dissipated. Not because I was looking for some blood, gore, or an adrenaline rush, but because the film started to meander aimlessly. The original premise is to show how the population of a small town confront their grief head on. Instead, it focuses on a handful of soap-opera style relationships that end nowhere. The sense of doom hovers above the film, but it lacks intensity - especially at the end.

It feels and looks very similar to Roy Andersson's magnificent Songs from the Second Floor (2000). But the big difference is Andersson's film knew where it was going. It feels like They Came Back only had the premise and nothing beyond it. This story needs a re-telling, but not a Hollywood one. What it needs is not violence, but a purpose.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails