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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Sarah Michelle Gellar - "The Return" Movie - Ign.com Review

Friday 24 November 2006, by Webmaster

The way The Return has been marketed - as a second-rate horror film, rather than the second-rate psychological thriller it is - you have to wonder who’s been choosing Sarah Michelle Gellar’s post-Buffy film projects, and whether that person will still have a job after this one’s released. It’s one thing to avoid typecasting by accepting a string of roles that require running scared from supernatural bad guys instead of kicking their asses, but for those not paying attention, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake this for another Grudge sequel.

To be fair, the film’s advertising has put forth a rather misleading representation of what it’s actually about. Though there are supernatural elements, The Return has little in common with the Grudge franchise. It’s not even a horror film in the strictest sense. While there are some jump-out-of-your-seat moments, the goal of the film is not to scare, but to keep the audience guessing.

The story drops Gellar’s character, Joanna Mills, into the middle of the dingy, backwater town of La Salle, Texas - not far from where she grew up. What her company actually sells isn’t clear, but it’s irrelevant anyway. What is important to know about Joanna is that she is on the road a lot and - much like Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise - she’s reluctant to return to Texas (unless, apparently, it involves a big sales contract).

The reason why is soon clear. As she gets closer to the town, she begins suffering from frequent hallucinations that seem tied to people and events she can’t clearly remember from the past. Joanna’s estranged father (Sam Shepard, wasted in an inconsequential role here) can’t provide her with any answers from her childhood, but when she is nearly assaulted by a violent co-worker (Adam Scott), she is saved by a stranger (Peter O’Brien) who may hold the key to understanding who she really is.

As the film’s singular bankable star, Gellar is given the thankless task of holding it all together, but this might have been too much to ask. She spends most of the 85-minute running time (though it feels a lot longer, never a good sign) alternating between the emotions of fright and bewilderment. It’s not entirely Gellar’s fault, as she’s not given much else to do. Neither is O’Brien, ostensibly the male lead, who may very well possess more than an ounce of charisma in other roles, but shows no evidence of that here.

British director Asif Kapadia (The Warrior) employs a muted color palette and shaky camera movements to give the film a feeling that is at once immediate and nostalgic. The rustic landscape is rendered with a stylish eye, but the visuals suffer from a lack of visceral imagery and unfortunately can’t rely on the rather average script to create much of an impact. While not a wholly unpleasant viewing experience, The Return isn’t a film that will stick with audiences, or stick around in theaters for long. But then, as far as Gellar’s continuing film career is concerned, that may be a good thing.