Cataracts are no laughing matter
I remember watching the very first episode of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series and absolutely loving it. It had the perfect mixture of horror, action, and genuinely funny comedy. What made the show work so well was the strong performance of Sarah Michelle Gellar. She was a believable action star that was capable of being serious and quirky. She made the jump to the big screen with such popular movies as Cruel Intentions and The Grudge. After that, the movie choices became questionable and she decided to focus on home life with her husband Freddie Prinze Jr. Despite her later movies not doing so well, I am at least aware that they exist, such as the Scooby-Doo movies and Southland Tales. It was to my surprise that I came across a horror starring Sarah Michelle Gellar that I never heard of before.
The Return is a 2006 horror thriller starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (The Grudge, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) as Joanna Mills. Joanna is a traveling representative for a trucking company and agrees to take a business trip to her native Texas. She has avoided the state for years after a troubled youth there., brought on by a car accident. There, she reconnects with an old friend and her father, but begins to suffer from bizarre visions. Strange occurrences such as hearing a man's voice, recurring music, and seeing the inside of a bar she's never been to before begin to effect her. Joanna begins to self-mutilate, or cut herself, to deal with the visions, but they only become more specific with a man she does not recognize harassing her. Joanna is able to find that the bar she is seeing is actually in a small town in Texas called La Salle. She goes to the town and meets a man named Terry Stahl (Peter O'Brien, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Casualty) who was suspected of murdering his wife years ago. They have a strong connection, but Joanna's visions become more intense and get in the way of their relationship. Her visions lead her to a mechanic in town and when she questions him, the mechanic becomes hostile and begins to follow her. How are the visions connected to Terry and his wife and what does the mechanic want with Joanna?
Where is Giles, Willow, and Xander when you need them?
There is a good reason why I have never heard of The Return. The movie tries so hard to be creative , and while I commend the creators for at least trying to do things differently, it just doesn't work. It's forced to be creative because the story is convoluted and confused. The story unfolds in such a disjointed way that it almost impossible to follow what is happening. It doesn't help that the pacing of The Return is akin to a death march through the desert. It's hard to keep interested in a movie where very little happens and any action that does occur is either confusing or shot so poorly that you can't focus. A steady camera would have done wonders for my eyes and my brain. A shaky camera was probably necessary to convey a real sense of fear since the story wasn't capable of achieving real emotion. While there are some elements of horror, the movie is closer to a thriller, albeit with very little thrills. It goes for psychological, but is never capable of tapping into the human imagination or psyche.
Sarah Michelle Gellar tries to make the best of a bad story, but comes off as confused as the audience. I suppose that's a good thing since we are supposed to be along the ride with her, but it feels like she's only read 1 page ahead in the script and has no idea what is going to happen. Peter O'Brien is far too broody for my liking. The relationship between Joanna and Terry is far too convenient for the story's purposes and is entirely unbelievable. Director Asif Kapadia (The Warrior, Far North) does not capture the horror necessary to make the movie thrilling. Many scenes look like they were shot in a sepia tone, which I suppose fits in with the Texas landscape, but is not visually pleasing. The movie has a little bit of action, but not enough to keep things interesting.
OK, so the movie does one thing right
The Return tries to be a horror thriller and manages to be neither. The story is too weak and the pacing is so slow I am surprised moss isn't growing on the screen. There is very little action to speak of and the suspense in the movie is countered by the disjointed storytelling and shaky camera work. It doesn't help that the acting isn't very good and the relationship between Joanna and Terry is not believable. Like I said, there is a good reason why most people haven't heard of The Return. Little advertising combined with a bad story has banished this movie to the rental shelves where it should stay forever.