Sunday, June 16, 2013

¡Qué horror! 2013
Candidate #11

(November 2012)

I mentioned Robin Campillo’s Les Revenants (They Came Back) ‘round these parts before in passing.
Allow me now to expound on that film further…

Unleashed in 2004--about a year and a half after Danny Boyle and Alex Garland gave us 28 Days Later, and just two months after A) Zack Snyder managed to get the brilliant Sarah Polley in a zombie movie and inadvertently ignited the slow vs. fast zombie debate with his impressive debut, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and B) Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost kicked off their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy with Shaun of the Dead--Campillo’s Les Revenants emerged in the very early days of what would eventually develop into an unlikely revival of zombie cinema.

Even back then, Les Revenants felt, at least to me, like a breath of fresh air, a radically different approach to the idea of the dead returning to walk the earth.
Here, in a narrative co-written by Campillo with Brigitte Tijou, there were no rotting, shambling corpses intent on ripping into warm human flesh. Instead, there were the recently deceased (within the past decade), who suddenly appear, whole and seemingly unharmed, wanting only to return to the lives they’d been rudely evicted from by their deaths.
Here, Campillo focused on the living as well, those left behind, who now have to suddenly adjust to the reality that what they might have prayed for--the return of their departed loved ones--had, quite unbelievably, come to pass.

Flash forward to November of last year, and in the eight and a half years since Les Revenants, zombies had moved into the mainstream and become the monster du jour of horror, with an American zombie cable television show perennially breaking ratings records with seeming impunity.
Zombie, you’ve come a long way, baby…
It’s into this strange new world that Canal+’s television adaptation of Les Revenants emerges, and once again, we’re given an atypical depiction of the zombie phenomenon, one needed now more than ever, with so many bland and derivative entries in zombie cinema littering the sidewalks and the cineplexes.

Expanded into an eight-episode first season (with a second season that’s expected to debut early next year), the TV version of Les Revenants employs the same subtle creep and dread of Campillo’s original, eschewing a portion of the art house ambiguity of the film for some more traditional drama of the serialized sort, as well as some more overtly supernatural goings-on (though the exact nature of those aren’t really explained either).
And though the TV show’s narrative does not really follow the film’s (save for the central conceit of the dead returning and how that event impacts on the living), there is one major cast member carry-over: Frédéric Pierrot, playing different characters in either iteration, of course.   

The last time I put a TV series into the ¡Q horror! milieu was Dead Set. But just as that show rightly deserved its ¡Q horror! spot, so does this one. (Just imagine you’re watching an 8-hour long movie, with a sequel waiting in the wings…)

Plus, Mogwai scored the damned thing, so hey, one more reason to check it out!

Parting Shot 1: It should be noted that AbbottVision and FremantleMedia Enterprises have purchased the English-language remake rights, and intend to produce a show under the title, They Came Back, so I’d advise you to hunt down the French original before then.
This show should not be confused with ABC’s mid-season title, Resurrection, which is based on the novel, The Returned, by Jason Mott. (Though honestly, Mott’s novel, to be released in August, has a central conceit that’s pretty much the one in Campillo’s original. As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “A family gets caught up in a worldwide event in which loved ones return from the dead exactly as they last were in life.” Hurm.)

Parting Shot 2: Also, if the atypical zombie’s your thing, then you should check out the 3 episode BBC show In The Flesh, which might have gotten this ¡Q horror! slot, but it’s particularly less “horror” than Les Revenants, so…
Still, it’s worth your while, if you want more from your zombies than AMC’s The Walking Dead can give you…

(Les Revenants OS' courtesy of; They Came Back DVD cover art courtesy of; Les Revenants OST sleeve art courtesy of

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