Although pegged as one, The Return is neither psychologically thrilling or supernaturally scary, which makes it a poor choice for a ghost story.
Did you know there are scientifically documented cases of very young children who had spontaneous memories of things and people and places they could never possibly have known about? Apparently The Return's screenwriter Adam Sussman discovered this phenomenon and created the character Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a young woman who, since she was 11-years-old, has been having disjointed flashbacks of some horrible attack she never experienced herself. She flashes regularly on a dank bar, paintings of seahorses and ends up hiding from a man who calls her ''Sunshine." And who knew hearing Patsy Cline on your radio would spell supernatural trouble? The best part is when Joanna has one of these episodes, she ends up cutting herself. Needless to say, the girl's a tad screwed up. Eventually, Joanna finds herself inexplicably drawn to La Salle, Texas, where she finally starts to piece together the murder mystery that has been plaguing her for so long. Thank god!
Someone just needs to hand Sarah Michelle Gellar a Coke and a smile. Forget about being a scream queen, Gellar has become the queen of depression, with the two Grudges and now The Return under her belt. She has actually made an art form of sad, teary-eyed stares in the mirror, sinking onto a bed with head in hand and general malaise. She also plays scared pretty well, but, deep down, you know at any moment Gellar can get all Buffy the Vampire Slayer on whoever is threatening her, especially as the tough Joanna. But the actress has to be getting tired of all this despair, so let's hope she decides to move on. The other Return cast members really aren't worth mentioning, except for a brief appearance by Sam Shepherd as Joanna's dad. One can only imagine he did this for some extra cash.
The Return is one of those cases in which the trailer makes the movie look a hell of a lot scarier than it really is, which is probably why the studio didn't pre-screen it for critics. It's a marketing ploy, of course, pitching a thriller with an established horror actress attached--except this time, they are messing with their built-in audience. Reminiscent of the truly creepy What Lies Beneath, The Return may have a few jumps and bumps here and there, but as a ghost story, there isn't any oomph. Maybe it has something to do with the ultra-depressive main character, who isn't nearly developed enough. We aren't invested in what happens to Joanna, or the woman periodically possessing her so she can solve her murder. The Return doesn't measure up to its expectations, lulling us instead of thrilling us.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.