The most direct and obvious route to watching SundanceTV’s ethereal horror-drama The Returned is to, well, watch it. But that doesn’t address the concern of how to prepare yourself for viewing the series, which turns a familiar-enough genre premise -- dead people addling their loved ones by mysteriously returning in the flesh -- into something more surreal than outright frightening. The Returned is, to deploy a bit of European parlance crudely, magnifique. Just ask these folks.
The good news: season one of the French series, which aired in the US way back in 2013, is streaming on Netflix, and the recently premiered sophomore slate -- which takes place six months after its predecessor despite filming two years later -- is only just underway (episode two airs this Saturday, and could serve as a nice antidote to Trump/SNL ickiness). And while antithetical to that monolith undead serial The Walking Dead, it does share one device in common: characters and audiences figuring out the new rules of their altered world one carefully treaded step at a time. To help both fans and late-comers navigate his show’s mystery and magic, creator/writer/director Fabrice Gobert gave us nine rules for watching. And as far as that little detour the franchise took via a quickly canceled US remake, you’d be wise to follow Gobert’s lead and simply pretend it never existed.
Returned Rule No. 1: Know your horror
“The movies of John Carpenter and David Cronenberg are great influences on me and the people who work on The Returned,” explains Gobert. “What I like in John Carpenter’s movies is you can make anxious sequences if you are in the head of the characters. I love his music. I love his way to lead the actors, and I love that there are not a lot of special effects in his movies. I also like that when you make horror movies, you can talk about society and deep feelings like love and the way you deal with death. It’s like fairy tales.”
Returned Rule No. 2: Don't judge
“It’s a very important aspect of The Returned, the way that everybody deals with the situations and the choices they make,” says Gobert. “Just like the spectator, no character knows exactly what’s happening. They have to make decisions, and then they are fighting with other people’s choices.”
Returned Rule No. 3: We’re all solving it together
“More than grief, more than life and death, what’s interesting to me is to see how people accept new rules in a world where death is not the end and the rules have changed and they have to discover the new rules and accept them or not,” Gobert outlines. “When I talked with the actors, they didn’t know a lot about what was happening, because we were writing while we were shooting, and I think it was very interesting, because they had to deal with the present [along] with the spectator.”
Returned Rule No. 4: Stop searching for continuity
“The characters, for them, since [the dead coming back] happened six months ago, they’re not sure it really happened. Maybe it was a nightmare, and maybe there’s confusion. Some of the new characters weren’t in the valley when it happened, so they don’t really know what happened, and this confusion is good. When season two begins, our characters are waiting for something to happen, just like our spectators. We thought it was interesting to imagine everyone has changed in a different way during the six months, cause the rules are so different, you can imagine people develop differently from one another inside The Returned.
Returned Rule No. 5: Don’t stress out about the new characters
“The balance was very difficult,” Gobert concedes. “There are two kinds of new characters: One is trying to understand what happened. Others are related to old characters. The characters of season one are more important, and the new characters can make us better understand the history of old characters.
Be afraid of Victor (right). Very afraid.
Returned Rule No. 6: Latch on to Camille and Lena
“The characters whom I started all the writing [with] are Camille and Lena and their parents,” shares Gobert. “For me, they are the normal characters, and they are just like the spectators: They’re not prepared for what happened, because they had a normal life until their daughter died and came back. But they’re completely normal, and we are like them. All the other characters are like romantic characters, like Adele and Simon. I wrote differently for every kind of character.”
Returned Rule No. 7: Feel for the dead
“It was very important when we were writing season one to imagine that living and dead people were as important [as each other] and that we should understand what happens in Camille’s head just as Lena’s head,” says Gobert. “I didn’t want to be more in one territory than another. We are with the living and the dead, together.”
Returned Rule No. 8: Fear, and don't fear, Victor
“There are as many answers as there are spectators of the show,” Gobert says of whether to be scared of the undead little boy who seems to have telepathic control over living and dead. “That is very important for me, because Victor is both a loved child and very frightening. That’s everybody’s choice.”
Returned Rule No. 9: Stick with the original
“The truth is I only saw five or 10 minutes [of the remake], and it was very difficult for me to appreciate it,” says Gobert. “Because it was very close to what we do and also very different, and it would be more interesting for me to see it in four or five years when it will be more objective.”
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Kenny Herzog is Thrillist’s Senior Entertainment Editor, and he watches anything with creepy children. Find out more about his weird preferences @kennyherzog.