The Return (2021)
Supernatural horrors are some of my favorite types of movies in general; who doesn't love a story about a family moving into a house and being haunted until they either all move out or die?! But for as much as I love them, the stories often feel like they're just being retold over and over again, and the thing that makes them special is the jumpscares. Enter the new to streaming film THE RETURN - directed by BJ Verot and written by him alongside Ken Janssens - a film that focuses a little less on terror and a lot more on creativity, almost in an attempt to put an end to the same old story; and it actually works, to be honest! I went into this movie having never heard of it before and pretty much blind, so what the films hour and a half had in store for me was all fresh and unexpected and all I can say is wow - it's definitely a storyline I personally haven't seen before and that was quite unexpected! Having paid $4 for the film rental, I think at the end of the day the films creativity and the little twists and turns it throws at you are well worth both your couple bucks and the time you put into it. If you're looking for Conjuring style jumpscares, The Return probably isn't exactly what you'd want but what it lacks in creepiness and haunts, it makes up for in other ways that make it worth it!
The Return follows the story of Rodger (Richard Harmon) who is joined by his girlfriend Beth (Sara Thompson) and his female best friend Jordan (Echo Andersson) to visit the childhood home he has inherited since his dad passed away a few days prior. The trio visit the house and stay a few days as the funeral and legal issues are sorted out, since the father left everything to Rodger. It doesn't take long until things get a little weird and uncomfortable in the house, as doors begin slamming, dolls fall over on their own and the college age kids see things in the corners of their eye. And before long, things begin to get ramped up and a full on apparition begins to show itself and haunt the group. As childhood secrets come to light and a dark past is uncovered, Rodger has to pull it together to battle the ghost that has been haunting both his house and his family. Can he put the pieces together to solve his family's troubled past using insane physics equations to battle time travel and let his family finally rest in their graves? Find out in... THE RETURN! [Reader beware: this review may contain some details that can be viewed as spoilers. Continue with caution!]
So time travel isn't exactly what audiences typically think of when it comes to supernatural horrors, is it? Not quite, but the way it is written into this story just oozes creativity and begs for the film to stand out in a sea of cookie-cutter horrors. And I'll be honest from the get-go: it took a solid minute for me, after the credits began to roll, to process what exactly I just saw on the screen simply because it came so out of nowhere and required just a little thought to figure out what exactly they were trying to say happened. But it works really well, like I said it definitely throws a little curveball at you, but it's nothing the average audience member can't put together a minute after seeing it. It was absolutely a ballsy move to go a sci-fi based route for the film, especially the ending, but the film definitely delivers and makes a terrific story out of it. But like I mentioned earlier, The Return is not a jumpscare heavy film - it's haunt isn't in ghosts flying at the screen and invoking fear into your dreams. Honestly, the film never even really gets scary or even creepy, it's more of an "oh that's awesome" kind of horror, and I think that's an important thing to know going into the movie. It certainly won't keep you up at night because of visions of the dead, that's for sure.
With that said, however, the visuals of this film are fucking killer. Verot certainly didn't hide the haunts throughout the film: the ghost makes multiple on screen appearances and they are seriously pretty wicked! The spirit that plagues the group of friends appears as a black smoke with these gnarly white, glowing eyes that would honestly make anyone in the house shit their pants, to be fair. If I was sitting in the kitchen and a black smoke appeared and manifested into the face of a woman with glowing eyes, my ass would have been so far down the block before it even made its way near where I was sitting. But that's not all! The spirit also appears in a Hellraiser-esque flesh body that is so fucking uncomfortable to look at, it's awesome. I am definitely a fan of films where the haunter is up close and personal with the audience, and The Return does not disappoint. Viewers will get some really awesome views of the smoky spirit in various forms, and it's just awesome overall honestly. I don't want to give too much away regarding the films twists and ending, but allow me to just say one more thing about it: the visual ride the film takes you on in the final minutes of its runtime looks absolutely stellar and is a great little addition to the movie, and it ties together the ending quite nicey.
When it comes to the acting and staffing of the film, the trio of friends - Rodger, Beth and Jordan - end up being pretty likable on screen. Beth doesn't get a whole lot of on screen time, but Rodger and Jordan definitely do and Richard Harmon really does steal the show with this one. He does a killer job playing the films main character, and his facial expressions as he goes through this obviously traumatic experience speaks a million more words than his mouth ever could. From the death to his family members to finding out some sinister secrets of his childhood to now having to deal with a haunted fucking house, Harmon really nails the physical look of how the average person would look with all this craziness piling up on his shoulders. It doesn't last long, however, since he realizes he needs to get to the bottom of the haunting and get shit done, but in those brief scenes where any human would be either totally mindfucked or mentally ruined, Harmon knocks it so far out of the park. His partner-in-crime Jordan is way more fun to be around than his girlfriend, and Echo Andersson makes for an excellent addition to the scenes she accompanies Harmon in, in making them just a little extra awesome.
At the end of the day, audiences want something that's different than everything else they've seen a million times over. And sometimes to get that, you have to sacrifice other things to get there. The Return isn't scary or unsettling - it's scenes just never establish that terrified feeling - but in return for the lack of nightmare fuel, the film delivers something fresh, different, and unique that I haven't seen a horror of its type do before. If you're looking for jumpscares, look elsewhere for your date night movie; but if you're looking for something that will make you take a step back and go "oh damn," The Return would make for a great rental this weekend! Check it out!