Friday, October 28, 2011

GPSerious: They Came Back (2004)

For those of you who appreciate and laugh at my humorous articles, I do thank you. I can usually find something to laugh at with any movie, no matter how serious it takes itself. They Came Back is an exception to that rule. I find nothing remotely funny about the premise or execution of this movie, and what I'm about to write will reflect that. If you'd rather see me shit on a bad horror movie, go read this. On the other hand, if you'd like to read about why They Came Back scares me more than any film by Romero, Kubrick, or Craven ever could, then this is probably the review for you.

There's one quote on the front of the DVD case that really pisses me off. "A zombie flick like no other...a nifty nail-biter," is what is printed right on the top of the case. "Nifty" and "nail-biter" are two words I would never associate with this movie. That kind of shit should be reserved for The Others or The Thing. Movies that keep you in suspense and guessing what kind of horror lurks around the next corner are "nail-biters." They Came Back is probably about a lot of things, but I'm going to only talk about one, very specific kind of horror. If you want to call this a zombie flick, I can't exactly argue with you. It's about people coming back from the grave, after all. But they're not trying to eat brains or unravel your intestines like a garden hose. They're just...back. They're alive again. Or so it seems.

The opening scene of the movie. People are coming back, and the world is going to have to deal with it in one way or another.

As you just saw, the movie opens with a mass exodus of people from a cemetery. If you're going to bash it for not explaining why they don't look dead, you're missing the point entirely. I usually hate movies that try to be artsy and deep, because the filmmakers always seem to be more concerned with what an amazing job they're doing with their off-the-beaten-path shitfest. Mark and I love to vomit all over Tree of Life, but it's only the most recent example of how someone can take potential meaning and dilute it with fake style and gravitas to the point of rendering the whole thing pointless. They Came Back, on the other hand, doesn't have any magical camera swoops or splicing of random bullshit. It's a story about how people would be forced to cope with loved ones returning from death. Not in the "Oh, shit, Bonnie's coming to eat me" sense. What if your recently passed wife came to your doorstep smiling and wanting to hug you? How would you react? What emotions would you go through? Would you even want to see them? It takes a lot of work to let someone go who's died. For some people, it can take years. For others, letting go is outside the realm of possibility. To accept the fact that someone you lost is back would take a lot of soul-searching. But, as this movie shows, grief can't be overcome by hanging on to someone or something that's gone.

The city has to meet to decide what to do with the people back from the dead.

Apart from having to confront something unimaginable from an emotional standpoint, practical matters also have to be taken under consideration. What about the jobs they left? You can't just fire the guy who replaced someone after they died. And what about pensions? The highest percentage of people who came back in this movie are of retirement age. How would you care for them? Society would basically be asked to cope with an onslaught of people all at once that it can't really handle. It's a fucking nightmare.

This is one of the facilities that cares for the newly undead. They're like a homeless shelter or disaster relief center.

The reason these people need to be cared for is that they're not quite people anymore. Their motor functions work, but their mind is not the same. Instead of living in the present, they can only think about the past. One central character who's come back thinks he last saw his spouse 2 weeks ago. He'd been dead for 2 years. Memories come back to them, but they just play on a loop inside their heads. They're mostly useless in any job that requires actual thinking, so everyone eventually figures out they're only good for certain kinds of manual labor. Not like sweat shops or anything, but nothing that requires decisions to be made on their behalf.

Mathieu was an engineer, but now his proposals literally make no sense.

Mathieu, pictured above, is one of the people who came back. His spouse, Rachel (or girlfriend, it's not specified), spends the first half of the movie actively avoiding finding out if he's even around. She can't bring herself to confront her grief over the man she loved and lost.

Mathieu follows Rachel home one day and acts like he never left. He asks her if they should stay home or eat out.

Out of all the people in the movie, I think I can identify with Rachel the most. She doesn't want to see Mathieu at all, because deep-down, she knows it's not him. She works with the city in some capacity, and she takes part in the briefings dealing with what's going on. Once she lets her longing for Mathieu consume her, though, she soon finds out the cost.

Rachel doesn't know what to say, so she comments on the shitty job she did with painting the walls. Then her own walls break down and she needs to embrace Mathieu, even if that man is a shell of who he was.

I'm going to tell you guys something that I don't often talk about, for the very reasons this movie points out. My grandma died 8 years ago, and I wasn't there when it happened. I'm not going to go into the whole story, but her death is something that I still think about almost every single day. I loved her (and still do) more than I can say with words, and I've yet to come to terms with what happened. I still haven't visited her grave. I can't bring myself to do it. Maybe some day I will, but I think that's still a ways off. If I knew about people coming back from the dead, of course I would want to know if she was one of them. But once I figured out that they're not really who they used to be, I would want no part in dealing with them. When someone dies, they're gone. I'm still clinging to my own grief and guilt about it all, so to have false hopes thrown right in my face would be too much for me to handle. It's the same situation Rachel is in. Of course, she's dealing with her husband/boyfriend, so it's different. But the premise is still the same: when someone dies, you can't have them back, no matter how much you want it to be.

Another character wants nothing more than to have his wife back, but she's not the person she was. She only wants to run away, the motive a mystery at this point.

I'm just about done talking about this one. It's one of the most effective horror movies I've ever seen, because it makes me look directly at something I don't ever want to face. That's the epitome of terror. If you're tired of watching gore-fests or lame horror movies that don't speak to the human condition, then They Came Back is my remedy to what ails you. It might not be one that you view more than once, but that single experience made me dread even writing this review. I had to look at my own life and realize what terrifies me most. What more can you ask for?


  1. I absolutely loved this movie. From the first scene i was transfixed by it, and the way it dealt with the undead was unique and engrossing. Both the directing and story was top-notch

    That said, i didn't really find this to be a horror movie...i found it more to be a art house take on the zombie genre.

  2. I'm glad you love this one. More people should see it. But I don't know what to say about it not being horror. I think I made the case for that pretty well.

  3. I just looked back on my review of it, and i will admit i found it eerie...i just think don't think i found it to be the scariest thing i've watched.

  4. Well that's certainly fair. As you found out with your post about overrated horror movies, people are scared (and not scared) by all different kinds of films.

  5. I still think this presents horror in a unique fashion, because it didn't speak to my empathy for fictional characters. It propped up undesirable things from my own life and forced me to think about them.