The Return

Director: Asif Kapadia

Even though I’d classify myself as a Patsy Cline fan, I think if I heard the opening of Sweet Dreams crackling through every radio station in the middle of the night while driving down a deserted Texas road, I would probably turn my vehicle around and get the heck out of Dodge. But then again, I’m not a character in a horror movie and had I done so, the story would’ve only been used as an amusing dinner conversation instead of Hollywood fodder. I guess it could’ve theoretically been worse—the song wafting through speakers from channels on the FM dial could’ve been Cline’s far more eerie masterpiece Crazy. In award winning British director Asif Kapadia’s American filmmaking debut, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar plays troubled loner Joanna Mills, a twenty-five year old sales representative for a largely masculine transportation company who travels from her St. Louis home base to her native Texas for work only to begin having terrifying visions of another woman’s murder which, along with strange events (such as the aforementioned “name that tune”) propel her to play amateur detective. Beginning with a flashback to a strange vision and traumatic experience Joanna had when she was just eleven years old following a car crash, viewers realize that something far more sinister may be lurking than just a touch of psychic power as the allegedly “happy and carefree” Joanna was changed into a melancholy worrier with a self-wounding tendency by the haunting revelations that plague her. After a perfunctory visit back home to check in with her equally lonely widowed father Ed (Sam Shepard whom IMDb reports was Gellar’s dream choice for the role), Joanna befriends a handsome stranger named Terry Stahl (Peter O’Brien) and starts to investigate the situation in small LaSalle, Texas. German cinematographer Roman Osin (Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice) does a wonderful job of elevating the admittedly B movie that never interests us at a higher than Lifetime Television Channel level to a disturbing work of art at times with the darkly greasy color scheme filled with browns, grays and blacks but it’s an ultimately forgettable little thriller despite a surprising finale.