‘The Returned’ needs a reality check

“The Returned” sincerely wants to be deep, but doesn’t put in the effort to actually be deep. It’s the worst kind of lazy movie: It expects its main conceit to carry the viewer’s interest. Director Robin Campillo knows his idea is interesting and seems to want viewers walking away knowing that, but not much else. Sure, the idea is interesting, but no amount of philosophical musing can make everything else feel any less hollow.

What a shame, too, because it starts off strong. A nameless horde of people shamble down the main street of a French town. These people, the viewer comes to find out, have been mysteriously resurrected and there are 70 million of them wandering around the world. The town finds itself responsible for helping, what are essentially children, reintegrate into the town.

The dead coming back to life is a fundamentally poetic idea. Since they’re essentially without character — save Bub from “Day of the Dead,” among others — they can represent any number of concepts and themes. “The Returned” turns that around and makes them remarkably normal. They don’t want to eat flesh or kill. They just want to live again.

And that’s where any and all intrigue ends. Propelled by a bland cast of characters, the movie has no clear protagonist. Arguably, Rachel (Geraldine Pailhas, “Disparue en hiver”) and her conflicted reunion with Mathieu (Jonathan Zaccai, “Cerise”) provides the most tension. But their relationship is uncomplicated from the start: Mathieu came back to life just when Rachel was getting over his death, and she wants him to stay dead.

The most shocking part of the movie is how utterly, boringly normal it is. By classification, it’s a zombie movie, but realistically it’s a drama. Not that it should have been a horror movie, but wouldn’t somebody be a little bit afraid when a decade-dead loved one stands in front of them? Instead, people cry, justifiably so, and accept the dead back into their lives. It’s all too easy, too earnest and too shallow.

For such a challenging premise, “The Returned” seems remarkably unwilling to challenge the viewer. It’s like director Campillo wants his audience to say, “Wow, what an interesting idea,” rather than, “Wow, what a great movie.” He succeeds deftly in taking the bad out of the good. If “The Returned” turned its eyes from the audience and onto itself, who knows what could have been?