They Came Back

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They Came Back
They Came Back DVD.jpg
Directed by Robin Campillo
Produced by Caroline Benjo
Carole Scotta
Written by Robin Campillo
Brigitte Tijou
Starring Géraldine Pailhas
Jonathan Zaccaï
Frédéric Pierrot
Music by Jocelyn Pook
Martin Wheeler
Cinematography Jeanne Lapoirie
Edited by Robin Campillo
Release date(s)
  • September 4, 2004 (2004-09-04) (Venice Film Festival)
Running time 102 minutes
Language French

They Came Back (French: Les Revenants), released in the UK as The Returned, is a French zombie film, originally released in 2004.[1] The film was screened at the Hamburg Fantasy Filmfest in Hamburg, Germany, the Venice Film Festival in Italy, and the Toronto Film Festival in Canada.

Unlike modern zombie films, in which the undead characters wish to digest or otherwise harm the human characters, the 70 million people who return from the dead in They Came Back are cognitively conscious and healthy, having not suffered any biological damage. They want simply to re-integrate themselves into society. In the French village where the film takes place, the town's population must cope with the social and emotional ramifications of the dead coming back to life. The dead are not unlike children, having to relearn how to talk and remember.[2]


Without warning the dead begin to return to life, appearing near their burial sites alive and healthy, and heading en masse towards their home towns. The event lasts for roughly two hours, returning an estimated 70 million people to life, all having died within the previous 10 years; more than 13,000 return in the film's unnamed city alone. Taking cues from the rest of the country and the U.N., the city's council and mayor (Victor Garrivier) make plans to house the returned and gradually help reintroduce them to their lives.

Reintroduction of the returned proves challenging, due to both the practical and emotional aspects. The returned also suffer from effects similar to those seen after a severe concussion, including lapses in awareness and connection with reality, further worsened by their universal inability to sleep and constant desire to wander. This causes them to perform sluggishly during their day jobs, but a small number of returned are observed having clandestine nighttime meetings with each other where their symptoms seem to vanish.

The returned begin reuniting with their loved ones, including the mayor with his returned wife Martha (Catherine Samie), married couple Isham (Djemel Barek) and Véronique (Marie Matheron) with their returned 6-year-old son Sylvain (Saady Delas), and Rachel (Géraldine Pailhas) with her returned husband Mathieu (Jonathan Zaccaï). Rachel is reluctant to see Mathieu at first, until one day he follows her home, acting as though he never left. After some trepidation Rachel accepts him, and the two make love. Rachel and Mathieu's reuniting is witnessed by Gardet (Frédéric Pierrot), a doctor who has become suspicious of the returned and Mathieu in particular after following the latter to a nighttime meeting. He later attempts to tell Rachel of this, expressing concern, but is told to leave her alone.

Most of the returned are moved to more menial jobs when it becomes clear that, though they can perform memorized tasks and procedures, they cannot engage in problem solving or planning, and even their apparent consciousness may be an illusion. Their increasing need to leave their homes at night and wander only adds to the growing sentiment that they are less than human. Most cope with this differently, Rachel denying it entirely, despite Gardet's attempts to convince her.

One evening a series of explosions tears through the country, planted by the returned, sabotaging most city centers and other infrastructure but without inflicting a single casualty. In the chaos the returned in the city begin heading for a series of underground tunnels. The mayor attempts to stop his wife from leaving with the rest, but begins to feel ill and, after urging from Martha to "give in", apparently dies; he is later seen in the tunnels alongside the returned. The military begins retaliating against the returned, attacking groups of them with a gaseous toxin that induces a permanent coma.

After guiding many returned to the tunnels, Mathieu returns to Rachel, where he describes the events leading to his fatal car accident, revealing he crashed while trying to find her after the two had a fight. Rachel follows him into the tunnels, tearfully kissing him before he disappears into the darkness. She returns to the surface some time later, observing as the military gather the comatose returned and take them away. The bodies are laid atop their graves in the cemetery, and slowly vanish.

Critical reception[edit]

The Village Voice remarked, "They Came Back suffers from long-winded earnestness and, despite some poetic conceits, its allegory ultimately doesn't parse."[3]

J.C. Maçek III of PopMatters and wrote, "This one may be hard to swallow in its ambiguity and surreal normalcy. It's not a "thriller", but can be thoroughly horrifying given the right viewer. It's also the only movie I've ever seen that is referred to as a "Zombie Movie" but contains absolutely no blood or gore whatsoever. Stick that in your crack pipe and suck on it, Fangoria!"[4]

See also[edit]

  • The Returned, a television adaptation of the film.
  • Resurrection, a 2014 American fantasy series of the similar premise.
  • Babylon Fields, a proposed television series featuring reanimated zombies, with similar themes.
  • Yomigaeri, a 2002 Japanese film with strikingly similar themes.


  1. ^ "They Came Back". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Gonzalez, Ed (2005). "They Came Back". Slant Magazine. 
  3. ^ Hoberman, J. (2005-03-15). "In This World". The Village Voice. 
  4. ^ Maçek III, J.C. (2009). "Les Revenants". 

External links[edit]