Sarah Michelle Gellar finds herself experiencing visions related to another woman’s unsolved murder years earlier in supernatural drama “The Return.” Time-killer chiller reps an undistinguished U.S. debut for U.K. helmer Asif Kapadia, though the undernourished script may be most at fault. Forgettable PG-13 pic will particularly strike fans of harder-edged recent horror pix as much ado about not much. So-so B.O. with genre auds will last for the usual couple of theatrical weeks, followed by longer life on DVD.
Prologue finds little Joanna Mills (Darrian McClanahan), still bruised from a car accident some weeks earlier, taken to a carnival by widowed dad (Sam Shepard). There, she’s frightened by a creepy man with long stringy hair.
Years later, Joanna (Gellar) is now a traveling sales rep. She’s on the road most of the time because she figures if she keeps moving, nothing bad can catch her.
Some vague fear of bad things past has kept her out of Texas, where she grew up, but determined to lock a particularly stubborn biz deal, she crosses the state line for the first time in years.
Whatever pleasure there is in seeing her dad and hanging with her high school pal Michelle (Kate Beahan) is marred by Joanna’s increasing experience of unsettling phenomena. The car radio won’t stop playing Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams” (even when turned off); mirrors briefly reflect a face other than her own; the longhaired man who scared her as a child starts popping up, unchanged, to terrify her anew.
Instinct draws her to LaSalle, a small burg in South Texas; though she’s never been there before, it seems somehow tied to her visions and personal history. She learns a woman was murdered there many years earlier. Fleeing town when her visions grow more harrowing, Joanna runs right into the clutches of the man (J.C. Mackenzie) who might be the culprit.
Climax intercuts explanatory flashbacks to the woman’s (Erinn Allison) frantic final moments, with present-day Joanna facing virtually an identical fate.
With its bleak settings and drained color palette, “The Return” is more self-consciously somber than the script’s logic gaps, uninspired character writing and general familiarity can justify.
Nor does the performance by Gellar, who does not convince as either a native Texan or a crack corporate salesperson, provide the melancholy psychological resonance helmer Kapadia (whose Hindi-language “The Warrior” made some waves in 2001) seems to be aiming for. Pic delivers a lot of momentary shocks, but without much overall suspense, involvement or credibility to back them up, the scare factor emerges as just moderate.
Aussie TV star O’Brien has presence, though the pic doesn’t do much with it (and doesn’t bother changing his character’s appearance at all for 15-years-earlier flashbacks). Other thesps are adequate. Ditto tech and design contribs.