THE RETURN (Asif Kapadia, 2006)
Since she was eleven, Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has seen visions. The most common is a stringy-haired man in coveralls and work boots who calls her "sunshine" and claims just to want to talk. Every time she thinks she sees him, Joanna squeezes underneath something--a table, a bed--in hopes of avoiding him, regardless of if he's really there.
In THE RETURN, Joanna appears to be a regular 25-year-old, although a bit of a solitary one. She's distanced from her father (Sam Shepard) and friends and prefers when business keeps her on the move, trading hotel room and city night after night. She rarely gets back to her old stomping grounds, but the chance of landing a lucrative account lures her to return.
Upon her arrival, the visions return more forcefully, as does Joanna's childhood habit of cutting herself. She travels on to La Salle, Texas, a place where she's never been but which is home to a red tavern and rundown farmhouse that she's envisioned. Could something have happened to her there that is feeding her waking nightmares?
Director Asif Kapadia and screenwriter Adam Sussman reach into the grab bag of horror movie clichés and pull out fistfuls for THE RETURN. Ghostly country and western song that skips? Unexplainable problems with in-dash radio/CD player? Creepy southerners everywhere you turn? Childhood drawings that help solve the mystery? Check, check, check, and check. Not only is this a film without an original bone in its body, it's also about as thrilling as sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office.
For as little that happens in THE RETURN, I don't think it has internal consistency. When she expresses interest in the big account, Joanna's boss says that he thought Texas was off limits for her. A critical flashback shows Joanna's dad driving a car with Kansas license plates. At a visit to her father's place, he tells her that her bedroom is the same it was as a girl.
The title, as bland as bland can be, doesn't seem appropriate either. The place to which she returns is somewhere she's never been. The ending provides a kind of answer, but it's a tenuous reason at best to think that THE RETURN fits because of it.
It's easy to pick up on those things because there's a whole lot of nothing going on in this movie. THE RETURN tries to get by on atmosphere alone. The blue-tinted images and eerie silences, themselves played out stylistic choices, don't mean anything when the film lacks dramatic tension and interesting characters.
There's not enough plot in THE RETURN for an episode of GHOST WHISPERER, let alone a feature-length film. At least with a TV show, you don't have to leave the house to be bored.