The Return

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Return Movie Poster Image
Buffy star is haunted by violent memories.
  • PG-13
  • 2006
  • 85 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Stereotypical villain (smalltown Texas local who's misogynist and brutal); the haunted protagonist receives little help from friends or family.


Several jump scenes; a young girl is stalked; protagonist cuts herself with knife twice; a car accident is shown repeatedly (the last version is the most violent, showing the crash itself); repated, sometimes abstract-seeming, bloody body parts; repeated versions of the same assault/central murder (a man hits, drags, kicks, then knifes his femlae victim, with bloody results and screaming); after another car accident, the protagonist's face and chest are bloodied; climactic struggle involves hitting, kicking; protagonist stabs villain with big knife; rape is threatened twice (first time is cut off quickly by another man; second leads to woman's murder).


One scene shows sex as a flashback (blurry images, very close-up and inexplicit); one friendship involves a tender kiss but doesn't develop further because of the movie's focus on scary stuff.


Some ("god damn," "s--t" ).


Coca-Cola sign in the background; Pepsi can.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking in a bar; brief drunken aggression.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydinaedinae April 9, 2008
Adult Written bysassyone April 9, 2008

I slept!

This is the worse movie I have every seen. I wish I had the 75 minutes back I wasted watching this. SMG was better in "The Grudge" even "The Gr... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byHorrorfan247 April 9, 2008

The Return

The return was a pretty clever and original thriller/ghost tale. I thought that this movie overdid it with the violence for PG-13 rating but it wasn't that... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

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