Mes Amis, one fine day in France for no apparent reason, the recently deceased begin rising from their graves. While this could lead to rampant people eatin' and more bad lines than the complete Rod McKuen collection, the French don't quite know what to do about the return of their loved ones. For starters, they seem completely normal, calm, cool, collected, and looking pretty decent for a number of months in the grave. The citizens respond essentially with a silent surprise and a tentative acceptace of the huggable hoard and do their best to slowly work them back into society (a la the "returned" in USA's The 4400).
Skipping past the whole "how the eff-you-see-kay did this happen" aspect, Campillo (and screenwriting partner Brigitte Tijou) explore the discomfort of adjusting to domestic life with someone for whom one has already mourned. Some, like Djemel Barek's Isham are overjoyed to receive their loved ones back regardless of the circumstances. His embracing of his young undead son Sylvain (Saady Delas) is as touching as it is misguided. That's because there are others out there like Sylvain's mother Véronique (Marie Matheron) who aren't so convinced. For example, Victor Garrivier's Le maire refuses to even see his wife at first. When he does bring her back into his home, heart and bed, he's distraught over her differences. Nowhere is this feeling better exemplified than in the relationship between Rachel (Géraldine Pailhas) and her husband Mathieu (Jonathan Zaccaï), who has returned fully intact after two years in the grave.
Just what are these people so worried about? After all, these aren't your frightening typical zombies. They talk, move, breathe, have sex, eat and even return to their jobs. The only real differences are that they talk a lot less than before, and only on those subjects that interest them, their body temperatures are slightly lower than the "living" and they don't sleep very often. Well, those things and the fact that they secretly congregate at night, planning... something. As the film goes forward more and more strange things tend to surround the undead, proving that they aren't quite the people their friends and family thought they were. As their memories return and their wander-lust gets stronger a palpable fear overtakes the town and the audience as we wait for that "something" to happen. The dead have returned, they are different and they are among us... do they have unfinished business?
This is a thoroughly "French" movie and is joyous in its subtleties. At no point do Campillo and Tijou go for shock value or cheap thrills. The real "horror" in this movie is in the waiting. We know something is going to happen, we just don't know what and when. What's worse, the characters do too, and Rachel, Véronique and the rest can't do a whole lot besides wring their hands and hope. And yes, a few times we're forced to join them in their powerless fear.
Les Revenants has a powerful, if ambiguous ending that may or may not satisfy the audience it aims for depending on their tastes. In many ways this is as inaccessible as Fort Knox. In others this is the thinking person's supernatural film. Working out this puzzle (for all the patience it may take) is most certainly a worthwhile endeavor, and no two viewers may come out with the exact same final answer. After all, "les revenants" translates not only into "those returning", but also into "ghosts".
This one may be hard to swallow in its ambiguity and surreal normalcy. It's not a "thriller", but can be thoroughly horrifying given the right viewer. It's also the only movie I've ever seen that is referred to as a "Zombie Movie" but contains absolutely no blood or gore whatsoever. Stick that in your crack pipe and suck on it, Fangoria! Four Stars out of Five for Les Revenants, the brilliant and subtle anti-horror, anti-zombie movie. There's more to European Zombie films than just that which gushes from Italy. By that respect, this drama is a fantastic change of pace. Those needing their Zombies to rip a few throats out before the social commentary comes pouring over them like Alabama's Crimson Tide should apply elsewhere... and probably in English.