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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Return (2006)

"There was a bar. It had no name. It was red."
- Joanna (Sarah Michelle Gellar)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 27, 2007

Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Other Stars: Sam Shepard, Peter O'Brien, Darrian McClanahan, J.C. MacKenzie, Adam Scott, Kate Beahan, Bonnie Gallup, Erinn Allison
Director: Asif Kapadia

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images
Run Time: 01h:25m:12
Release Date: February 27, 2007
UPC: 025192867620
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ DBB+ C-

DVD Review

There's something supernaturally rotten in La Salle, Texas, and poor Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has to lug her pouty, depressed behind down there from St. Louis and try to make it all right. Or perhaps go crazy trying. And that's all well and good, and as a plot for a creepy, spooky movie it sure sounds workable, even if it's not a terribly new concept. In The Return, Gellar's troubled character has been plagued by bad dreams, weird voices, faces in the mirror, and the especially nasty habit of cutting herself since she was 11 years old (to further cement the point her best friend refers to her as "restless").

But let me get my big beef out of the way before we go into the particulars: director Asif Kapadia was apparently not consulted on the marketing campaign, which went to great lengths to make this look like another jumpy Japanese horror-inspired title like Gellar's Americanized The Grudge, in which, maybe, white-faced ghost kids or frantically clawing spook hands lurk around every darkened corner. The way that this one was pitched and sold would burn my ass if I was Kapadia (and the shrill DVD blurbs and artwork are really no better), because he's actually put together a rather quiet and stylish mystery with a few supernatural elements added to give it some otherwordly zing.

The fact is, the script by Adam Sussman (of the recent Night Stalker series remake) doesn't offer the characters all that much to say or do, or that the mystery angle isn't all that difficult to figure out ahead of time. For a film that starts out promising with an eerie experience at a carnival, it quickly becomes apparent that The Return is less about being outright scary than it is about figuring out why Joanna has been a bit glum for twelve years. And that's fine, I suppose, especially if it means a few whispery ghost voices and visions, but there's not a lot going on. Kapadia tries to dress up Sussman's starkly uneventful script with plenty of shadows and darkness, intentionally giving his film an almost monochromatic texture, making the minimal plot advancements almost look substantial.

The Return is not Gellar's Sophie's Choice in terms of acting, but most of the time she looks grim and has a furrowed brow, so we can tell she's supposed to be in personal torment or taking part in some kind of discovery. The new black hair helps make her character seem a little more out of sorts, I suppose. Sam Shepard plays Joanna's somewhat estranged father, and while he's not in the film all that much, it's no surprise that his performance is one of the best things about it. He is so undeniably likeable and sad at the same time that I was preconditioned by so many bad movies to expect some horrible character shift. It's kind of nice to see a nice guy stay a nice guy.

Terry (Peter O'Brien) lurks in La Salle as a mysterious, equally moody bearded stranger who saves Joanna from some unwanted advances, and even though we know he's key to the story—his presence in her dreams seems to signify that—his character is never allowed to exhibit any variance in facial expression or attitude. O'Brien sort of looks like Lost's Sawyer, only if he lived on a dilapidated Texas farm and without the witty comebacks. It's probably not O'Brien's fault, but Terry seems poorly written as the male lead, and even when we get his backstory it doesn't offer any forehead-slapping revelations—just things that we, the eagle-eyed viewers, probably picked up on in the first ten or fifteen minutes.

Credit the skill of Asif Kapadia with almost making something out nothing here—it's like he had all the elements except a script that told a story we haven't heard or seen before. In short, lots of spooky style and, sadly, no substance. Not really a horror film—more of a supernatural drama that has been packaged as something it isn't. And that's just wrong.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: D

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Universal has issued The Return in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the intentionally drab color pallete (chock full of dull blacks, greys, greens, and browns) looks appropriately washed out and processed to enhance the spooky factor. Things like fleshtones never really look lifelife, but again that's an intentional part of the visual effect, and the transfer renders these evenly throughout. Black levels are deep and strong, and even the darker, more dangerous moments never lose edge detail, which makes following the action a little easier. Some minor grain issues here, but nothing especially distracting.

Nice. Gloomy, but nice.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Unlike a lot of supernatural flicks, The Return operates as a fairly quiet film, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix doesn't get a whole lot of opportunities to really unfurl. The few times that it does—with things like disembodied voices—the effect is nicely done without sounding cheap. Similarly modest but effective .LFE delivers a few key rumbles when needed. The rest of the time, voice quality is clear, offset by a good use of directional pans to paint a natural sense of onscreen movement.

A French language Dolby Digital 5.1 dub is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Extras feature the brief Making Of The Return (08m:34s), another in the standard issue mix of positive comments from cast and crew, plot description, a handful of behind-the-scenes shots, and a few clips from the film. Director Asif Kapadia seems like a nice enough chap, and he talks softly about his love of material like Hitchcock and Vertigo, and things like set design and lighting, while Sarah Michelle Gellar chimes in about her character and about how she and Kapadia have a similar mindset on the meaning of life.

The cover blurb hyperbole gets ratcheted way over the top describing the six deleted scenes ("the terror you never saw!") and the single alternate ending ("too shocking for the big screen"), and it's really almost comical. The six cut scenes—running 10m:45s altogether—are not particularly terrifying in any way, shape, or form, unless you consider dialogue terrifying. With one exception, most of the footage doesn't offer anything new, scary, or noteworthy.

The blathering about the alternate ending (05m:45s) is the funniest of all, because the so-called "horrifying conclusion not seen in theaters" is almost a more logical one than the theatrical version, though perhaps just a little too predictable. I was hoping for something really bleak and dark based on the blurb, but that just wasn't to be.

A couple of trailers (none for the feature) wrap the supplements, and the film is cut into 20 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

The Return is a beautifully dark film that shows stylistic promise from director Asif Kapadia, but one that unfortunately doesn't have enough originality in the story department to give it any sense of satisfying relevance.

Normally I would gladly watch Sarah Michelle Gellar sort socks for 90 minutes, but here she is left to go through the supernatural motions and uncover secrets that are only a surprise to her, and certainly not to anyone watching.

 


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