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Sarah Michelle Gellar

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

Thursday 18 January 2007, by Webmaster

Since the demise of Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar has been making a living from Hollywood remakes of Japanese horror films. The Return is different only in that it isn’t a remake but an original - but the style is virtually unchanged from The Grudge or its sequel.

Gellar plays Joanna Mills, a young woman beset by terrible hallucinations that lead her to investigate the desolate town of La Salle. Mills has clearly never seen any of Gellar’s films, as once there she makes all the classic mistakes: taking a room in a deserted hotel, she befriends the local loner, and explores his empty house on her own.

This is the sort of by-the-numbers chiller Hollywood does perfectly well, and The Return works well while in ghost-train mode. The use of sound for spooky effect is excellent - loud orchestral spikes, disembodied whispers and a repeating snatch of a song all conspire to send shivers down the spine.

The photography follows the usual conventions of suspense: apparations appear in mirrors, around corners, or between edits, and the town of La Salle makes for an effective haunted house. The bleak visuals - blasted wastelands of corn-stubble and rusting, Gothic-looking farm equipment - have a sepulchral dread: what a shame, then, that the plotting and characters are so instantly forgettable.

It’s all just plain lazy. Mills has a father and a best friend, each hastily introduced and as quickly forgotten. Attempts at red-herrings are brief and unconvincing. Everyone Mills meets spouts odd dialogue that ranges from the obtuse to the absurd. In referencing the issue of self-harm the film even manages to be crass ("Dad! It’s not normal for an 11-year-old girl to cut herself!").

The supernatural is used as an excuse for poor characterisation and coincidence: since we do not understand it is understood we will swallow anything. The Return won’t bear a rewatch in the way The Sixth Sense does: in retrospect, Mills’ stalker boyfriend must have had her radio-tagged, and widower Terry Stahl can smell danger from across town.

The test of any spooky story is in the revelation of its terrible secrets, and here The Return gives up with a whimper. The back-story is so dull and ordinary that it would barely warrant an X-File. The script doesn’t even pretend to care: the villain is revealed by chance and his misdeeds come without motivation or consequence.

Things wind down into a tedious flashback that takes great pains to tick off every manifestation of the first half, leaving the audience with nothing to piece together. Indeed, the only reason not to leave the auditorium half an hour early is the final twist, which by law all ghost stories must have, and though it’s no Ring-style stinger it does wrap things up neatly.

The J-horror mandate is closely followed: there is no gore and the film aims to startle rather than to shock. But without the cunning of Shamalyan or the icy logic of The Ring, The Return is ultimately pretty disposable. A fun night out for teenagers: everyone else can rent a Hitchcock instead.