What Went Wrong: The Return

By Shalimar Sahota

August 7, 2013

Oh my gosh! Am I in *another* crappy horror movie?

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This will go into a few spoilers, so if you haven’t seen The Return… well, I seriously doubt it’s on your must see list.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is practically synonymous with her role as Buffy Summers from the popular TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. During her time on the show, she managed to star as part of an ensemble cast in the slasher films I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2. When the show came to an end in 2003, she didn’t stray too far from the horror genre, starring in a remake of The Grudge and its sequel (though she doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the sequel). Both films opened at the top of the US box office (The Grudge in particular opened to $39 million in 2004). With The Return, Sarah Michelle Gellar gets her name above the title in another supernatural horror film, produced on small production budget of $15 million. Surely this can’t fail?

Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a sales representative for a trucking company. Quite how that worked out is anyone’s guess. She also happens to be suffering from weird visions, the kind that involve familiar locations and the murder of a woman. Recognizing one of the locations as La Salle, a small town in Texas, she makes a visit (checking herself into a God awful place known as “Arlo’s Bar-B-Q”), hoping to find meaning to it all. Once there she befriends the mysterious Terry Stahl (Peter O’Brien), who helps her from a rough situation. Slowly she discovers that he might be connected to her visions.


Financed by Intrepid Pictures and Rogue Pictures, with the latter also distributing the film in the US, The Return opened on November 10, 2006. They probably realized that they had an unconventional horror film on their hands and so opened it on a little over 1,900 screens. Reviews were dreadful, describing the film as a “slow-bore,” “convoluted,” “uneventful,” and “forgettable.” At the time, Borat was riding high at the box office, leaving The Return to open quietly at #9 with a disappointing take of $4.4 million. It didn’t last very long and took just $7.7 million at the US box office. Overseas it earned $4.2 million, making for an overall worldwide gross of $11.9 million. The following year, it was released straight to DVD across a few countries in Europe. So what happened here?

Penned by first-time screenwriter Adam Sussman, he revealed how he was partially inspired by documented cases where children had suddenly found themselves with memories of people and places they couldn’t have known about. Asif Kapadia signed on to direct in 2004. Kapadia’s previous film was The Warrior back in 2001, a story of a warrior who renounces his violent past, only to have it catch up with him when he is hunted. The film told its story via the visuals and with very little dialogue. Strangely, that’s something Kapadia has carried over for The Return, with the cinematography by Roman Osin being very good, but it cannot hide how painfully slow the film is.

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