What is it like to live in a world where zombies look just like you and me? The Returned, which is now playing in limited release, takes place more than 30 years after a worldwide epidemic killed hundreds of millions. The disease transforms its victims into bloodthirsty flesh eaters.
The development of an antidote helped those lucky enough to be treated within a few hours of infection. Such individuals, known as "The Returned," must take a daily dose of medication, or else the disease returns with a vengeance.
With supplies of the antidote drying up, a doctor named Kate (Emily Hampshire) works feverishly treating victims and raising funds to develop a lasting cure. She has additional incentive: her husband Alex (Kris Holden-Ried) is one of "The Returned." They have kept his illness a secret, however, because in the years since the original outbreak, a social stigma has become attached to "The Returned." Much like those diagnosed with HIV in our world, especially back in the 1980s, "The Returned" are viewed with fear and distrust by the general populace. Some call them zombies.
Although The Returned includes brief scenes of graphic violence, it's a tense drama rather than an action movie. And it tackles an issue that is rarely, if ever, addressed in zombie movies: what to do with those who are infected but have not yet "turned" into zombies? Note the observations made by writer Natasha Vargas-Cooper at The Awl last year:
The zombie narrative leaps over one of the most agonizing moral questions of disease: what to do with the infected who are not sick? This category of person does not exist in the zombie universe. If you are bitten, or zombie blood gets into your system, you “turn," usually (and ridiculously) within seconds. "The Walking Dead" only makes a gesture to the ‘infected but not sick’ category by making everyone a carrier of the mysterious zombie virus. This trick serves no purpose other than quickly killing off the mortally injured with a bullet to the skull. No one survives becoming a zombie. Once turned, an infected person can only consume and infect others. It is either/or.
The Returned is an exception to that rule. It revolves around the relationshp of Kate and Alex; it's them versus the disease, but it's also them versus the world, a world that is hostile to anyone unfortunate enough to contract the disease, and inhospitable to those who try to help them. It's a zombie movie that advocates for zombie rights; after all, before anyone was a zombie, first they were a human being. Just like you and me.