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Wednesday, November 12, 2008:
"The Return" (2006) - movie review - warning - Spoilers

Joanna Mills, a tough young Midwesterner, is determined to learn the truth behind the increasingly terrifying supernatural visions that have been haunting her. Joanna has made a successful career for herself, as sales representative for a trucking company. But her private life has been difficult; estranged from her father, stalked by an obsessed ex-boyfriend, and with few friends, Joanna fears that she is losing control. She sees and feels the brutal murder of a young woman she's never met, at the hands of a heartless killer, a man who appears to be making Joanna his next target. Determined to fight back, Joanna is guided by her nightmares to the murdered woman's hometown. Once there, she will discover that some secrets can't be buried; some spirits never die; and that the murder she is trying to solve may be her own.

I saw part of this movie months ago when I was on a business trip and always wanted to find out how it ended. The movie starts when Joanna is a little girl, and her father takes her to a carnival at night. She doesn't really want to go, but her father thinks it will be fun. At he's getting them something to eat, Joanna wanders off and is being chased by a creepy guy who keeps whispering to her, calling her "Sunshine".

Fast-forward to years later, where Joanna, now a successful sales rep, is given an opportunity that will lead her to Texas, where she grew up and where her father still lives. Joanna's success doesn't sit too well with her ex-boyfriend, who follows her to Texas. Calling in a favor from a friend, Joanna meets with a potential client, and later, makes plans to catch up with her girlfriend from high school. But while in Texas, she keeps having these disturbing visions about a place she's never been, and after an act of self-mutilation she doesn't remember, she is determined to find the town that's been haunting her.

She goes to visit her father, whom she hasn't seen in years, and spending the night in her old room only brings up more unanswered questions. She father is vague about what happened to her as a child, and she decides he's not going to tell her what she needs to know.

With another sleepless night ahead of her, Joanna uncovers the name of a town from her childhood - La Salle, Texas - and believes this is where her visions are from. Not one to sit around and mull things over, Joanna heads straight to La Salle, and rents herself a cheap room. That evening she heads over to the Red bar, the one from her dreams, but before too long, her ex-boyfriend shows up, and she manages to get away from him. He follows her to her room, but before he can hurt her he's dragged out and beaten by one of the guys from the bar, a man with a past that seems to be hated by the townspeople.

Joanna feels a connection to the man, and the next day goes to his house. At first he's angry, thinking she's breaking into his home, but when she turns to leave he stops her, and after introducing themselves - he's Terry Stahl - they agree to meet up the next day. Before she goes, she turns and sees the barn and begins to act a little strange, but shrugs it off and heads off.

The next day they have lunch together, and talk about their pasts a bit. After awhile, they get up to leave, and Joanna says good-bye, but can't resist kissing him on the cheek, feeling drawn to him, as he does to her, though she's years younger. Not finding what she's looking for, she decides to go back to Terry's house, and once again he's not there. She inevitably heads for the barn, where she has another increasingly violent vision, and Terry finds her hours later, bleeding.

Eventually all becomes clear; why Joanna keeps having these visions, why the townspeople hate Terry, and even who the creepy guy from Joanna's visions really is. But will he be stopped before someone else ends up dead?

It's an interesting story, if a little slow. A lot of "show, don't tell" action going on here, and at first it's a little confusing, but as clues are slowly uncovered, it begins to make sense. Joanna's frustrated by the visions she's been having for years, and sees things in herself she doesn't know how to explain. The grim, dilapitated small town setting sets the perfect tone for this story, and as we learn more of Joanna's past, we see how the events of her life intertwine with those of the woman from her visions. Before the end of the movie it's apparent that Joanna finally has some closure about her past, but we are unclear as to what she intends to do going forward. I actually liked that about the movie.

It's not really a horror movie, but it's does have its thrills and chills. I've always been a fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar (well, since BtVS anyway), and find her portrayal of this lonely, disturbed woman to be quite strong and sympathetic. The character of Terry Stahl is a worn, tired rugged anti-hero with a raspy midwestern voice, and is wonderfully played by Peter O'Brien, whom is actually Australian and sounds quite different than the character. Sam Shepard plays Joanna's distant father, and Adam Scott is the obsessive ex-boyfriend who just can't let go. A strong, likeable cast, and if you're in the mood for something a little different, something that's a bit slow and without the dramatic finish, then this one might be for you.

Rating: **** out of *****

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  1. Good review! I've never heard of this one before. But *laughing* as I was reading your synopsis, it sounded like a RS novel. Dare I ask if there is a HEA between Joanna and Terry?

  2. You know Stacy - scary is so not my thing. But you make it sound interesting. I think I'd have to rent it and then fast forward through most of it.

  3. Kristie, it caught my attention when I saw MSG in it, so I stopped and started watching it. Even though it's slow-paced and grim, I couldn't turn the channel. As for romance, well, I'm not going to ruin it for anyone. They will just have to watch the movie to find out *g*

    Marisa, it's really not that bad. Mostly suspenseful, not gory or enough to give anyone nightmares. It's definitely different.

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