The Return

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a travelling rep for a trucking company, is dedicated to her successful career but something of a loner. Since the age of 11 she has been a troubled person, with episodes of self-mutilation and menacing visions. Normally she avoids returning to her native Texas, but agrees to a trip there to secure an important client. During the trip her visions, which take the form of memories of events not from her life, increase in intensity. She sees a strange face staring back at her in the mirror. Her truck radio plays Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” no matter what station she selects. She stops at the scene of an accident that, on the following day, seems not to have happened. Joanna cuts herself in a bar restroom and is narrowly rescued by a friend. She visits her father, who observes that from age 11 she was “a different girl”. The visions continue, becoming both more specific and more threatening, centering upon a menacing man she does not recognize and a bar she has never seen, but a picture of which is in one of her catalogs.

Drawn by the image to the Texas town where the bar is located, a place she has not been since childhood, Joanna meets a man named Terry Stahl, whose wife, Annie, was stalked, brutally assaulted, and left to die fifteen years before, a crime of which Terry was suspected but not convicted. Joanna continues to have visions of this crime and the events that led up to it, and to discover other links between Annie’s life and hers. She meets the real killer and is led by what she has seen in her visions to recover the knife he used from its hiding place. She is then stalked, herself. She finds herself drawn into a repetition of the crime, but this time she stabs her assailant with the recovered knife, using the original weapon to avenge the original crime.

The story ends with the revelation that Annie, clinging to life as Terry drove her to the hospital after the original assault, died when his car crashed into one driven by Joanna’s father, in which the eleven-year-old Joanna was a passenger. After momentary unconsciousness, the young Joanna seems to have survived the crash. A silent Joanna is seen reflecting on who she is and what has happened to her. She seems to reach an inner resolution of these questions.

An alternative ending included on the DVD release more straightforwardly supports the interpretation that Annie’s soul has been placed in Joanna’s body.


Last year, or the year before, I can’t remember exactly which, Sarah Michelle Gellar starred in a drama about twins with an identity crisis…one was dead and the live one had taken on both personalities. I believe The Return may have had some influence in the creative process of that show and for Gellar’s earning of that role, due to a few similarities here and there.

What is this about?

After being plagued by horrific nightmares about the murder of a young woman she’s never met, successful sales representative Joanna Mills sets out on a determined quest to pinpoint the source of her fears.

What did I like?

Confusion. As I was watching this, I found myself confused as to what was going on. Normally, that would be a bad thing, but in a thriller full of twists and turns, it is more than acceptable, as it thrown the viewer for a loop and off the trail and makes the ending much more of a shock and awe moment.

Ending. On the DVD version of this, there is an alternate ending available to watch. I took the time to watch it and the ending that was actually used in the film and I must say tha the filmmakers chose wisely. Their ending makes sense, ties everything together, and still manages to leave a little bit of suspense there for the audience. The alternate ending is similar, but it has the look and feel of just a bunch of shots strewn together to make an ending.

What didn’t I like?

Pacing. Belive it or not, I didn’t totally hate the pacing. The slow crawl helped to set the tone of the picture. However, for such a short film (87 minutes), it made things seem like they would never get going. Truth be told, this isn’t that interesting of a film, so when you slow it down to a near stop it is next to unwatchable, especially for those of us with short attention spans and/or ADHD.

Switch. The way these two individuals deal with their situation (we’ll call it that so as to not spoil anything) could have been handled better, I felt. As a thriller, there could have been a bigger twist. I could also see this going the horror route, leaving a trail of blood, carnage, and bodies along the way until it was found out what really happened.

When the smoke clears, The Return suffered from not being that great of a film. The fact that it wasn’t particularly advertised, thanks to Gellar’s schedule and some other factors, didn’t really help its case, either, I would imagine. What did I ultimately think about it? Eh, it has a creepy, dark factor that people will eat up, but as a whole package, I wasn’t a fan. It almost feels as if this was made to bring the studios a quick buck while they prepare to release something bigger. Do I recommend it? Thriller/suspense and Sarah Michelle Gellar fans will enjoy it, I’m sure, but I’m not so sure about everyone else. This just doesn’t have mass appeal.

2 3/4 out of 5 stars


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