A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this slow-moving, arty, somewhat abstract film, isn't likely to hold kids' attention (though many teens may want to see it because of star Sarah Michelle Gellar). Though trailers suggest that it's a horror movie, it's really more of an exploration of a trauma. It follows a young woman's struggle with violent, literally dark memories. These include a man's fatal assault on a woman, a car accident, and aggressive behavior by a creepy ex-boyfriend/co-worker. Violence (and one sex scene) tends to appear subjectively, which makes it hard to read. Characters are generally mean-spirited, depressed, and cryptic. Some drinking, a couple of jump scenes, menacing men chasing girls and women, and fairly mild language.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is troubled by violent visions she's had since she was a child. Her nightmares began when she and her dad (Sam Shepard) were in a car accident. Joanna's blurry nightmares are sometimes unreadable, but always violent. Trying to keep safe, she works as salesperson for a trucking company, always on the road or in hotel rooms. Restless, she says. "Sometimes, I think that if I keep moving forward, nothing bad will happen to me." Her intuition is both right and wrong. Ultimately, she goes to the location of one of her visions -- a small town bar in Texas. She finds a farmhouse where a murder occurred and has a few close encounters, one with her ex-boyfriend Kurt (Adam Scott), who apparently followed her (and then tries to rape her). Joanna's savior is predictably unlikely and gallant -- and brings his own baggage. Not only does Terry (Peter O'Brien) stop Kurt's assault, he also follows him into the street and beats him nearly senseless. Watching from her hotel room window, Joanna is intrigued.
Is it any good?
Moody, impressionistic, and bleak, THE RETURN explores supernatural links between two women who never knew each other. Until the end, when it actually explains too much, the film maintains a certain mystery, only gradually revealing Joanna's horrible visions. Joanna is both spectator and agent in her own story. You'll figure out the secret long before she does, and its basis -- a woman killed by a rural cretin -- is pretty stale.
But Asif Kapadia's film is more like a tone poem than a horror movie, and, as such, it's gorgeous, full of unexpected images and choices, of color, and framing. Joanna's subjective journey doesn't end well, but the film doesn't shy away from the harrowing, lonely work of recovering from emotional trauma.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature of memories and how they affect us later in life. How could Joanna's father help her? Would it have helped if he'd talked to her (either as a child or as an adult)? How do Joanna's dreams engulf her life? How is her cutting herself a "cry for help"? How does the film suggest that she's providing some sort of "revenge" for the original murder victim? Is this revenge satisfying? Why or why not?
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.