Five reasons to watch French zombie series ‘The Returned,’ debuting tonight on Sundance

SHARE Five reasons to watch French zombie series ‘The Returned,’ debuting tonight on Sundance

One of the most atmospheric, addictive dramas of the year arrives on television tonight, on Halloween, appropriately enough.

“The Returned” (3.5 stars out of 4) is a French supernatural series featuring zombies, for lack of a better word. The Sundance Channel program is based on Robin Campillo’s 2004 French film “Les Revenants” (“They Came Back”), although the TV iteration appears to be better than the big-screen original.

In “The Returned,” men, women and children who were dead and buried suddenly come back to their sleepy, isolated mountain town. They look like themselves, not flesh-rotting, lurching monsters. They’re hungry — not for human flesh, but for sandwiches and a desire to pick up where life left off before their funerals.

This goes over with mixed results among the living, some of whom have moved on and others who continue to be consumed by grief.

“The Returned” isn’t without blood and gore, but the chills it delivers come from more subtle sources than your typical horror show. It’s a riveting, ambiguous story about life and death, artfully told and beautifully shot.

Here are five more reasons to watch “The Returned,” airing at 8 p.m. (Central) Thursdays:

1. “The Returned” will return for season two

Without giving anything away, suffice to say the eight-episode season ends with enough loose threads to make a tres chic chemise. At least some of these unresolved plot points are bound to be addressed next season, scheduled to begin shooting in France early next year. Fans’ outcry over the open-ended season finale in Britain, where the show has already aired, leads me to think creator Fabrice Gobert will be a bit more mindful of balancing intrigue with answers in future episodes. But if any series can get away with being open-ended and vague, it’s this one.

2. Sights and sounds

Moody, eerie and gorgeous (it’s a French alpine village, after all), the series instantly establishes a distinctive tone that draws you in. A preponderance of stark, dusk-lit scenes add to the atmosphere, and the pacing gives the story room to breathe while slowly ratcheting up the tension. Scottish band Mogwai created the haunting, hypnotic score.

3. Subtitles aren’t a stumbling block

If there’s a more beautiful sounding language than French, I’ve yet to hear it. Maybe that’s why I liked the subtitles. There isn’t any mile-a-minute Aaron Sorkin speechifying going on, so following the English words on the screen isn’t onerous and doesn’t detract from the drama. The acting is so superb — Anne Consigny as Camille and Lena’s bereaved mom, Claire, is particularly good — words are often secondary when it comes to conveying characters’ emotions.

(Left to right) Anne Consigny, Yara Pilartz, Frédéric Pierrot and Jenna Thiam in “The Returned.”

4. U.S. version in the works

Just like Fox is remaking U.K.’s stellar series “Broadchurch” for a U.S. audience (why???), A & E plans an American take on “The Returned.” Might as well be ahead of the curve and catch the original.

5. Chicago connection

OK, this isn’t reason enough to watch a show, but it’s worth a mention. We can thank Music Box Films for bringing “The Returned” to the small screen, Stateside. The Chicago-based distributor of foreign language films, including the Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” bought the U.S. rights to “The Returned” and partnered with Sundance to air it in America. That’s why the Southport theater’s iconic marquee can be seen in the opening.

“The Returned” is one of my top TV picks for the week. Here’s what else made the list:

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