Monday, June 10, 2013

The Returned, Season 1, Episode 1: Camille

We open to some beautiful mountain scenario and a bus driving along the deserted mountain road. There’s a young red-headed girl, Camille, in the bus – she’s just one of many, it’s a school trip and a teacher hands out work assignments with (by their reactions) a totally unfair deadline.

So, looking at the positive side, they will never have to complete their homework. On the negative side, that’s because their bus crashes through the barrier and falls down the side of the mountain. No matter how harsh the homework, I think the negative outweighs the positive.

That was some time ago. Today we zoom in one someone’s dead butterfly collection, pinned under glass and see one of them return to life and smash through the pane of glass (super butterfly, beware!) It flies past an old man sleeping in a chair who completely misses the peril of the super butterfly – and is woken by a knocking at his door.

Out in the wilderness, Camille pulls herself up the inclined back to the road, breathless and afraid, she follows the road to the town lights in the distance.

To the back room of a bar, where a middle aged man concludes a business arrangement with a young lady called Lucy – apparently things didn’t work – and when he leaves he is noticed by his daughter, Léna in the bar and her friends one of which taunts her about her dad’s… visit.

The man, Jérôme, goes from the bar to a room where a support group is meeting, apparently for family of those who died in the bus crash; he quietly gets a chair while Sandrine, a woman in the group, tells everyone that she and her husband Yan are having a baby and how the group has helped them move on after the loss.

Camille keeps walking to the town – which suffers a blackout, briefly. After the interruption, they continue with an unveiling of a planned memorial to the 38 dead children at which Jérôme speaks up and asks how much it costs since it is quite ugly. Really Jérôme, such a thing to say. It isn’t quite ugly. It’s absolutely hideous. Apparently this isn’t his first complaint and everyone else, lacking any sense of taste, is quite happy with the thing.

Camille finally arrives home and goes into the kitchen to help herself to some food, while the woman there assumes she is her daughter, Léna. When she sees Camille she freezes and stares in utter shock. Camille tries to explain why she is so late while the woman, her mother, stares in utter shock, slowly coming closer. She finally manages to gasp that she’s ok in response to Camille’s surprised question and Camille goes upstairs. Her mother follows, still stunned while Camille gets in the shower she rushes to her room and removes the little shrine she has on Camille’s chest of drawers, breathing heavily, trying to return the room into a more lived in look.

 She staggers downstairs and reaches for the phone, calling someone at the support group; Pierre. His answer machine picks up and she, Claire, asks him to come over in an excellently stunned voice. She then calls Jérôme who answers – and asks him to come.

Elsewhere in town, Julie, a doctor, gets a call from the elderly man with no idea he has a super-butterfly in the house, Mr. Costa who calls her with heart problems. She doesn’t seem overly concerned, positively blasé in fact, but promises to come as soon as possible. As she goes downstairs in her apartment building she lets in a man who is confused that his code no longer works – she leaves and he goes up to her flat – ringing the bell irritated when the door doesn’t open. Her neighbour – who is very nosy indeed and needs a hobby, tells him Julie’s out; which confuses him because he doesn’t know Julie – he’s looking for Adèle. Who doesn’t live there.

The traumatised and excellently acted Claire lets Jérôme into the house and tells him Camille is there. Which he seems rather… doubtful of. But she offers to show him her in the bathroom (that sounds way way creepier than it is). Hearing someone in the bathroom, Jérôme calls for Léna – but Camille answers of course. Surprised he opens the door – and she tells him off and tells him to get out, of course. He shares a shellshocked look with Claire.

A quick consult and Claire confirms that Camille doesn’t remember anything about the accident – only that she went on a school trip this morning. Camille comes downstairs and her parents continue to stagger around her in shock while trying to act normal until Camille goes to bed (after trying to call her friend Frédéric who is out with Léna and doesn’t answer the phone, too busy doing shots in the bar. Frédéric is a young adult – not a child like Camille).

Julie treats Mr. Costa who is extremely agitated – and she hears a noise. As she goes to check it out he hurries to his feet and stops her, telling her he’s alone (despite us hearing a woman’s voice earlier). Once Julie is gone he slowly and ominously heads to the kitchen where there’s a young woman eating.

Simon goes to a bar looking for Adèle who works there – or so he thought. She doesn’t, but he meets someone (may be Léna) who thinks she knows who he is talking about and agrees to take her in exchange for a drink.

Claire calls Dr. Tissier (Pierre) to come see Camille (who is irritated by all her stuff being moved) and because that shellshocked look is kind of priceless. She’s worried that her memory lapse (being on the bus then waking in the mountains) may be a sign of brain troubles, but that’s the last thing everyone else is worried about since everyone’s giving her creepy stares. After her suspicion that he’s a psychiatrist and not a conventional doctor he assures her he isn’t and gives us a brief definition of madness before leaving her to sleep.

Julie takes the bus back from Mr. Costa’s followed by a small boy. He gets off at the same stop as her and follows her home. He’s stopped when she enters the code and goes to her flat – but she sees him when she looks out the window, standing on the grass staring at her. She looks away and he’s gone; just as someone rings her doorbell.

There is not enough money in the world you could pay me to answer that door.

At the door is the creepy kid who is silent to all of Julie’s questions – when the nosy neighbour arrives to tell her about Simon and ask after Adèle (she assumes it’s a “dating name”), Julie confirms that Adèle lived in the flat before she did. The nosy neighbour asks about the boy and Julie calls him Victor and lets him in to get away from her.

You let the creepy silent kid into your flat! You’re just asking to be haunted/cursed/ripped up into little pieces. Or have your biscuits eaten. Hey, some kid stealing your chocolate biscuits is pretty bad.

Back at Claire’s house, Jérôme doesn’t know what to do or think, especially since Claire and the doctor raise religion which he apparently doesn’t agree with – and asks since they’ve been praying for it why aren’t they better prepared? He breaks down and Claire comforts him. Pierre tells them they need to tell Camille what happened to her and to reassure her as her parents – it also seems Pierre and Claire are together now and there’s some tension between Pierre and Jérôme.

Léna leads Simon to Adèle’s, trying to make conversation along the way (we learn Adèle tutored her) but Simon is closemouthed. He watches Adèle through the window – she sees him in the mirror but when she turns round he’s gone. And the doorbell rings

Why do they keep doing that? Is it a special rule? You can only knock on someone’s door if you are thoroughly creepy first? Is this some French etiquette I’m unaware of?

She creeps slowly to the door while he knocks and rings and calls for her – she breathes heavily, panicking a little. He demands she open the door and she breaks down, crying and screaming at him to leave her alone. A small girl comes down the stairs and holds her, calling her mum.

Back at Julie’s and creepy silent eating child is still creepy, still silent and still eating. She tries to make him talk by threatening to call the police and he just stares at her extra creepily. She breaks and agrees to let him stay the night but tomorrow he’s going to the police station.

At the pub, Lucy finishes her shift and heads home but on the way runs into a man in a hoodie – with a knife. He attacks her and she pushes the knife away, hits him, bites his arm to make him drop the knife and may even have stabbed him. But she pauses and he grabs her and stabs her in the stomach. She falls to the floor, him repeatedly stabbing her in the stomach and whispering comforting words

Léna returns home, climbing up to her room quietly. Camille hears her moving around and knocks on the wall between their rooms – possibly some kind of childhood code. Léna gets that shellshocked look and knocks back – and Camille comes into her room. Léna breaks down hyperventilating and crying and Camille panics – Claire rushes upstairs, holding Camille and grabbing Léna’s hand while they both cry.

Mr. Costas has a different reaction – he piles up a number of photographs, covers them in lighter fluid and sets them on fire. As the room burns we see a picture of the woman who was in his kitchen – the same woman who is now tied and gagged to the bed in the next room. He leaves and the whole house catches fire. In his living room we see a picture of the woman – but it’s very old and black and white. His ex-wife? Perhaps long dead?

Julie struggles with her Creepy kid, trying to get him to go to sleep. She asks him again what his name is and he finally speaks – Victor. The fake name she gave him. The fire brigade arrives at Mr. Costas’s house and confirm the fire was arson – but the house is empty, there are no victims. They report Mr. Costas missing. One of the firemen goes home to Adèle and finds her crying and upset.

Simon, meanwhile, visits his own grave. He died in 2002.

Workers at the dam at the lake comment on the water level dropping – and see Mr. Costas climb to the top of the dam. They rush to help him – but he jumps before they can reach him. It’s a long way down. Time for lots of atmospheric camera pans of the whole cast while the heavy music plays

And a flash back to Claire and Jérôme
’s household 4 years earlier, the morning of the school trip with Camille complaining that Léna doesn’t have to go because she’s sick (or pretending to be). The family leaves her alone and we see that young Léna is Camille’s twin. With Camille on the bus, Léna  lets in her boyfriend and they make out in her room, Léna is hesitant because Camille has a crush on him.

We see Camille on the bus as she was at the beginning of the episode, but while her sister has sex, she feels it. Camille panics and runs to the front of the bus, demanding to be let out. The driver is distracted and on the road there’s the small creepy-boy, fake!Victor, just stood in the middle of the road. The bus swerves to avoid him and that’s what drives them off the edge.

Well, it’s definitely atmospheric. I want to complain about the sheer number of characters and the slow pacing but I think they both work together. By going slowly and showing all these people, all these different experiences it feels neither crowded nor sluggish. It’s very artfully done.

The scenery, atmosphere and acting combine to create a powerful sense of theme and an underlying creepiness throughout the reunions. Even when there should be joy there is fear and shock and trauma and that ongoing creepy. It’s really well done and presented – and the acting is extremely powerful even when working through subtitles. Ok, sometimes I think it may try a little too hard, but still, I’m hooked.

I suspect a lot of people will be put off with this programme being in French and subtitled – but it works. The emotion there, the scenes, the powerful characters mean the subtitles are a minor issue at best. I think this is going to be a very impactful human drama – with a heavy dose of mystery on top (why are they back? Who is the creepy kid who doesn’t age and caused the bus crash? Why have they all been dead for different times? What’s with the electricity and the dam?) So many questions – I am intrigued