Welcome to the post-post-apocalypse, where the zombie virus has metastasized from horror-movie gross-out to full-blown sci-fi metaphor.
In Manuel Carballo’s assured feature, two major zombie outbreaks have been contained, and the virus has been halted in bitten survivors — the Returned of the title — who must give themselves daily injections of the “return protein” to continue living normal lives.
Kris Holden-Ried and Emily Hampshire play Alex and Kate, a couple who’s hiding the fact that Alex has been controlling his infection for years. In the face of anti-Returned prejudice and a growing panic about dwindling medication, the pressure builds on the couple to get black-market meds to ensure Alex’s survival while defending themselves from violent bigots.
Carballo squeezes an impressive amount of exposition into news reports and medical briefings, but Holden-Ried’s and Hampshire’s performances are what ground the film; they share a tender, lived-in love that invests the viewer in their dilemma.
Relying less on ravenous flesh-eaters and more on suspense built around a speculative premise, The Returned owes a lot to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men.
The film suffers from a series of unsatisfying endings, but it’s nonetheless refreshing to see a zombie movie with brains behind the camera instead of on the menu.