Thursday, January 11, 2007

THE RETURN: Lame duck thriller

THE RETURN (psychological thriller)
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kate Beahan, Peter O'Brien, Adam Scott, Sam Shepard
Director: Asif Kapadia
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)
Gellar in 'The Return'
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?The Return” sees Sarah Michele Gellar back as horror movie favourite soon after “The Grudge” series. This, however, is not good news for her career as it may mean that she is stuck in a rut as Hollywood's current 'horror queen'. And especially so since “The Return” is such a forgettable lame duck thriller that is rather devoid of thrills.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? The movie has Gellar as Joanna Mills, a hot-shot sales rep for a trucking company who has just been promoted over her ex-boyfriend (Adam Scott). Her personal life, however, is a mess. She has been suffering from recurrent nightmares and visions of being stalked by a stranger, plagued by Patsy Clien's 'Sweet Dreams' on the car radio (even when turned off) and is wont to cut herself with a blade.
While on a business trip to Texas, Joanna makes a detour to the (fictional) town of La Salle where, she believes, her nightmares originate. Indeed, she confronts her 'stalker' (J.C. MacKenzie) there, as well as a 'hero' (Peter O'Brien as Terry Stahl) who seems appear out of nowhere in the nick of time to rescue her. Oh yes, Joana also learns about a 'murder' in one of the farm houses from her nightmares.

HIGHLIGHTS & LOWLIGHTS: Is Joanna being stalked by something or someone more sinister and supernatural? After almost an hour of excruciatingly slow plot build-up, with repeated flashbacks, cheap scares and red herrings, you will be sorely disappointed by the 'payback'.
The Return”, it turns out, is a one-idea movie stretched to a nonsensical 85-minute footage. It would have been bearable if there were more subplots or witty comic relief to see us through. But no, director Asif Kapadia (who helmed the Hindi film “The Warrior” in 2001) sticks to the tried and tired devices, using rundown settings to enhance the dark and dank atmosphere. Granted, the cinematography is first class and some of the location shots are nice to look at, but they do little to boost suspense or tension.
There is a subplot about Joanna's relationship with her widowed father (well played by Sam Shepard) but it is dismissed too early and not properly developed to connect with the plot. Poor Gellar has to carry most of the narrative as the troubled Joanna whose determination to get to the truth of her 'visions' even goes contrary to her character. Darrian McClanahan, who plays the young Joanna in the flashbacks, has a better time with her role. And so does Kate Beahan as Joanna's best friend Michelle. Alas, Beahan has more to contribute in terms of comic relief and build-up than the few scenes she is given in this anaemic thriller.

THE LOWDOWN: Which brings us to the nagging question: Is Hollywood so bereft of new ideas that it has to recycle Asian horrors to provide us with a good scare?


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