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“RESURRECTION: Season One” (DVD Review)

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Robin Campillo’s 2004 French horror film LES REVENANTS (anglicized as THEY CAME BACK) is a confounding, beautiful picture. A sort of anti-zombie film in which inexplicably, dressed all in white, the dead return to a small French town en masse and are reunited with their disoriented families. It’s a slow, sad and moody film that never goes for cheap scares and instead builds tension by suggesting that the dead are connected somehow and their motives are not entirely virtuous.

After collecting a small, dedicated cult following, LES REVANANTS was eventually spun off into an equally effective French TV series which aired in the US on the Sundance Channel. RESURRECTION is a different program entirely.

An ABC production that, on the surface, seems like a rip-off of the European original, it is in fact based on a well-read novel called THE RETURNED (also the English name of the French series… confused yet?) by Jason Mott. Of course, Mott must have seen or at least read about the original film when he put pen to page, which is not to accuse the resulting American series as a poor knock-off. It’s not. In fact, it’s almost as powerful and in some cases, in regards to the performances anyway, it’s arguably superior.

RESURRECTION begins in rural China with a sweet-faced 10 year-old boy waking up fully dressed and confused. Even more befuddled are the Feds called in to figure out who the boy is and where he came from. The agent assigned to the case (Omar Epps) eventually learns the shell-shocked lad—named Jacob—hails from Arcadia, Missouri and, breaking protocol, takes him home. What he encounters is the first in a series of increasingly bizarre and intensely emotional sequences that will, over the course of eight episodes, serve as RESURRECTION’s central mystery.

Little Jacob has been dead and buried for 32 years. His grieving parents, though never forgetful about the loss of their boy, have healed, moved on and aged from Jacob’s drowning. Said parents are played by Francis Fisher and the brilliant Kurtwood Smith (ROBOCOP, THAT 70’s SHOW) and both of them, especially Smith, steal the program. When Smith is first told that his boy Jacob has come home and he counters the claim with what he believes to be a three-decade proven truth, the look on his face as his son runs toward him to embrace him is searing. Rarely has this critic seen an example of the actor’s inner voice so potently revealed. In a few frames, Smith runs the gamut of shock, disbelief, anger and acceptance, all the while being jettisoned back to the role of the devastated parent he was 32 years prior. Soon, he’s a man who sees the return of his beloved child as a second chance to protect that which he lost. If it is indeed all a dream…he doesn’t want to wake up.

The mystery of Jacob is the narrative thrust of the first few episodes, as neighbors, loved ones and doctors attempt to uncover how the impossible can suddenly be possible. It’s quiet, sad, affecting drama. But when more “returned” show up, specifically a long dead father who returns to command his household, things get darker. As the dead keep returning—and, in an eerie twist, are murdered only to instantly renew again—bitter pious Church groupie Helen Edgerton (Veronica Cartwright) believes them to be evil. And they may be. As in LES REVANANTS, the returned are most definitely connected, like a hive, and they are indeed hiding “something”….

What that something is, Season One fails to explain. By the final episode, RESURRECTION has so expanded its narrative and altered the roles of key characters that it seems the writers have painted themselves into a corner. The climax goes for typical American network TV bombast and lets the sophisticated, thoughtful tone of the show down.

But the rest of the program is so good that this writer eagerly awaits another round, if only to spend more time with Smith’s melancholy patriarch,

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
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