The past never dies. It kills.
The story follows a tough, successful saleswoman whose vivid nightmares drive her to investigate the mysterious death of another young woman 25 years earlier.
A new supernatural thriller starring Sarah Michelle Gellar (“The Grudge,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) as Joanna Mills, a tough young Midwesterner 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 (Sam Shepard), stalked by an obsessed ex-boyfriend (Adam Scott), 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.
About The Production
After a close friend endured a personal loss, screenwriter Adam Sussman felt that he “wanted to write something about the dead reconnecting with the living. Nothing was really clicking until I came across scientifically documented cases of very young children who had spontaneous memories of things and people and places that they could never possibly have known about.
“After doing more research and reading about the memories and stories that these children were accessing, I found that usually there was violence involved; a life had been cut short – and there was a reason for ‘the return.’”
Using these stories as a foundation, Sussman created the lead female character of Joanna Mills and then built a supernatural thriller storyline around her. “I enjoyed writing the scares, the big horror set pieces, and the – hopefully – surprising twists,” he says. “I set it in the Midwest because, although I’m from New York, I love the heartland – and because I thought remote locales would be scarier.”
Producer Aaron Ryder was immediately drawn to Sussman’s script. “I tend to gravitate towards movies that are a little more complicated than standard fare, and I hadn’t read anything quite like this before,” remarks Ryder. “The Return is a terrifying story about being haunted, in a ghostly manner, by things you don’t understand – and it’s a haunting story in a different way, because it’s also very much a love story of two soul mates trying to get back together. The complexity of the psychological thriller aspect also allows for an emotional core.
“I loved the idea of a powerful woman working in a man’s world, as well as the journey that Joanna presses ahead on, which is filled with intense visions and extraordinary situations. She has to learn who or what is trying to possess her, and why.”
Producer Jeffrey Silver adds, “She’s on a search – but for what, she doesn’t know. We did our research, but as filmmakers, the facts of specific cases were less important to us than what can be inside every human being. When we have the sense of déjà vu, what do we envision as the cause of it?”
Ryder remarks, “Adam did a lot of homework. I spoke with a gentleman who told me about just how you could wake up and sense another presence in your soul.
“I think we all harbor universal fears of losing control and being chased by our own demons. For Joanna, this starts happening quite literally.”
“Anticipation makes for a good thriller. The most terrifying aspect of The Return is the expectation that something awful is going to happen at the very next moment,” offers Silver. “This story is told with a serene surface point of view – but you’ll expect the worst to happen at any moment. That expectation permeates the landscapes in the movie.”
In 2004, director Asif Kapadia signed on to the project. The young British filmmaker’s first feature, The Warrior, had won praise all around the world, including two BAFTA Awards.
“The appeal of Adam’s script was the simplicity of it. The story is told more through imagery than dialogue. When we first met with Asif and talked about The Return, he said it would be about set undressing,” reveals Silver. “In terms of sets, costumes, acting, and dialogue, he wanted to generate the dramatic tension that a supernatural thriller requires with a spare quality to the presentation and imagery.”
Ryder confirms, “Asif a true storyteller, and is rather remarkable in his ability to pare away and shave down a story to its very essence, to its very core. There’s nothing superfluous in this movie. Orson Welles once said, ‘The absence of limitation is the enemy of art.’ It’s something Asif believes in. He likes to know what his parameters are, because then he can increase his creativity.
“As an emerging filmmaker, he has a strong vision and voice. He reminds me a lot of Christopher Nolan [with whom Ryder has made two films] in that regard, with the sensibility.”
The director responded to the screenplay’s “creepiness and suspense, and its series of layers. We unravel one, then another, then another…and you learn that everything has a motivation.”
Kapadia was also drawn to playing up the elements of fate and spirituality within the thriller framework. From his European perspective, “it was essentially a very American movie,” he admits. “But it had a sensual central idea of something spiritual, something otherworldly – which excited me; I felt this was something I could hook into.
“Different people – in different religions – have been brought up with the concept that people might die and come back in another life in another form.”
To tell Joanna’s story, Kapadia sought to create a specific interpretation. Accordingly, he says, “The point of view of The Return is that people are on some sort of path and that we’re not all separate beings. Somehow, there’s a force out there that links things up. You can try to come back to correct something that happened to you in another life.
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kate Beahan, Peter O Brien, Adam Scott
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
Screenplay by: Adam Sussman
Release Date: November 10th, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images.
Box Office: $7,749,851 (US total)
Studio: Rogue Pictures (Focus)