Having not had the luxury of access to Canal+ whilst in France, I was pleased to see Les revenants (The returned) finally make its way to Britain in its full subtitled glory. Hailed as a success in France, the TV series has all the ingredients of an edge-of-the-seat Euro-drama that has got everyone talking.
It is rare to see foreign dramas on mainstream TV at peak time. Sadly audiences are often put off by having to ‘read’ what they are watching. But passionately believing in the quality of the drama despite the language barrier, Channel 4 decided to chance it and made Les revenants its first subtitled drama in over twenty years. The risk paid off, with the eight-part series weaving a seductive and chilling tale which kept British viewers glued to their screens.
Set in a small Alpine village, Les revenants is a zombie story with a difference. What makes this zombie thriller different is that it merely flirts with the fantastic world. The zombies are not flesh-eating fiends, but humans in limbo who seem amazingly normal. Being French zombies, they are as beautiful as the day they died, with enormous appetites for everything. What they do not realise is that their loved ones were not expecting them back.
Mixing raw emotion with gorgeous cinematography, Les revenants explores the emotional complexities of loved ones coming back from the dead. The series opens with Claire coming across her daughter Camille raiding food from the fridge. Normal teenage behaviour right? Except her daughter was killed four years ago in a school bus crash. Similar scenes of the dead returning to join the living are taking place. A mysterious bambi-eyed boy turns up at the door of a childless doctor, a beau gosse is looking for his girlfriend and a middle-aged woman shows up at an elderly gentleman’s flat.
Without resorting to any gore or violence, Les Revenants is a gripping and psychologically compelling drama. The series is beautifully shot and the tense soundtrack provided by Scottish band Mogwai adds to the melancholic atmosphere. Fabrice Gobert’s complex and intimate script expands the brief moment in zombie films when survivors recognise loved ones and traps it in an emotional loop.
The fact that the ‘human’ characters are not mauled to death when in a metre’s radius of a ‘zombie’ makes the series all the more captivating. Why are they returning? Why don’t the others come back? Why do they not gorge on human flesh? Why do scars start appearing on their skin? Why do they start to develop insatiable sex drives?
Hopefully the second series will start to shed some light on the cumulative mystery surrounding those who have returned. A must-see for anyone looking to watch a good quality drama.
Filming of series two will begin in 2014 with an anticipated broadcast later in the year. Channel 4 has already announced that it has acquired the broadcasting rights for the second series.