By: Scott Weinberg
I'm stumped. I simply cannot imagine how much more inert a movie could actually be and still remain a movie. The Return comes hazardously close to becoming a still-life painting of Sarah Michelle Gellar as she wanders through a dusty town. It's the cinematic equivalent of a "white noise" machine that helps you fall asleep at night. Frankly I can't imagine the hardcore horror fan who'd make it through more than 12 minutes of this gaping yawn of a movie.
Joanna Mills (the bland-as-ever Ms. Gellar) is a saleswoman who, all of a sudden, decides to visit the dingy old dust-bowl of a town in which she grew up, but of course something "horrible" once happened there, so poor Joanna spends most of her trip hearing creepy noises, dealing with dangerous strangers ... and wandering around town. And when I say "wandering," I don't mean that amateur-style wandering. Nope, it seems that everyone involved with the creation of The Return has a master's degree in aimlessness (with a minor in obviousness) -- and they're not afraid to use it. Mills finds an unlikely ally in a hulking loner -- not a great idea when you consider the skeletons in this chick's closet, but it's not like plot and logic are of paramount importance to first-time screenwriter Adam Sussman. You can almost hear the producers sanding down the rough edges or excising the darker stuff -- because hell, nothing makes a "thriller" more thrilling that when it's gutted at the altar of PG-13. (And here's the punchline: The Return grossed less than $8 million during its theatrical run last year -- so who exactly is this "neutered horror" sub-genre intended for??)
Gellar tromps through the proceedings offering a predictably boring performance; Adam Scott adds a few drops of color early in the flick, which of course means his character must vanish completely by the 30-minute mark; and Peter O'Brien contributes a performance that's equal parts vague, confusing and boring. The barely-addressed "love story" between Gellar and O'Brien's characters is one of the most listless things ever captured on film. And that includes the film inside bank security cameras that run all night long.
Austerely directed but shamelessly dry, uneventful and derivative, The Return feels like half a dozen J-horror movies were thrown into a blender set on "congeal." Points for trying something a bit more moody and atmospheric than your typical slash-'em-up, but many more points subtracted for sticking with a story and presentation so irritatingly trapped in the familiar. In truth, The Return feels like something that used to be a horror movie before a dozen concerned mommies got a hold of it and snipped out all the scary bits. Or more likely ... the thing was never intended to be scary. Ms. Gellar seems to be building a cottage industry in the realm of PG-13 horror, and far be it from me to prevent Buffy from collecting her easy paychecks. But I'd sooner recommend a fourteenth viewing of The Grudge remake (which sure as hell is not a great horror movie) than a first visit with The Return.
Universal's "Rogue" division (as if there's anything "rogue" about yet another haunted town snooze-fest) delivers this bomb to the home video market with a minimum of bells and whistles. Extras include a very basic 10-minute "making of" piece, a dry fistful of deleted scenes, and an alternate ending that would have added nothing to the film aside from three more minutes of running time.