The Return Review
Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) works as a sales rep for a haulage company. It's a lonely existence, requiring long trips on the road living out of motels, but it suits her and she's good at her job. She's just landed a meeting with a particularly stubborn oil tycoon whose business would mean a lot to her boss.
There's one problem. The oil company is in Texas, the state where Joanna was raised and which she's reluctant to return to, following a traumatic childhood. From the age of eleven, she suffered frightening hallucinations of a man trying to hurt her, which led to fits, panic attacks and self-harming. Her father (Sam Shepard), a decent man, tried to understand what was happening to his daughter but he couldn't help her. Returning to the Lone Star state, she begins once more to see the visions, only now they're more vivid and specific.
The story told in The Return is slight and a touch too obvious - the ending isn't quite what I'd expected but it isn't far off. Adam Sussman's script is reminiscent of one of the moodier episodes of The X-Files. Its telling is so good however that it almost doesn't matter. This is one of the most exquisitely made films currently in cinemas.
British director Asif Kapadia, who's specialised in arthouse films up to this point (The Warrior is the best known), shoots his first horror movie effectively and stylishly. He creates a truly unsettling atmosphere rather than relying on the obvious editing room techniques of so many of his contemporaries - the cheap shock cuts accompanied by shrieks and booms on the soundtrack. Kapadia also delivers an memorable vision of rural Texas - of oil refineries, tacky bars, junkyards and long highways cruised by dusty pickup trucks. The cinematography by Roman Osin compliments the direction perfectly.
Kapadia's good with actors too. Sarah Michelle Gellar is better than usual, playing a character that suits her slightly chilly and withdrawn screen persona. Sam Shepard's inimitable presence is well also used and Aussie newcomer Peter O'Brien is impressive as the stranger who holds the key to Joanna's troubles.
I'm in too minds about whether to recommend The Return. I think many viewers will be underwhelmed by the plotting. However, if you're someone who can enjoy a film just for its direction and for the way it looks, you may find it surprisingly worthwhile.