They Came Back is about all that can be done to reinvent the walking dead. The joys of watching heads get split open, brains eaten, and flesh torn to shreds and whole sets being painted red are more than appealing to any horror buff. But what about those of us that want something a little more? They Came Back strips the zombie’s by-the-numbers setup and gives it a makeover that people bored with the genre have been looking for.
It happened one day: the dead rose and roamed the streets. However, there were no battles, no fires, and no feasts upon the living. They simply came home. In a small French town, about 13,000 have returned to their families and former jobs. No questions are asked, no warnings are given; it’s though they never left. Immediately, the shock throws society for a loop. What to do with those who’ve returned? Is there any cause for alarm? As the world struggles to find a solution, it seems the dead may have some plans of their own.
They Came Back should put a smile on the face of anyone with a taste for the unconventional. The absolute best part of this film is the fact that we don’t know anything. Whatever our characters find out is always news to us. It’s like a learning program, follow the footsteps that the film so carefully places for us. Rarely have we seen as refreshing an approach to the zombie film since the original, trend-setting Night of the Living Dead. However, the comparison is a bit unfair, since one could argue that the two films are completely different. Not once does They Came Back evoke George Romero’s name. But this is what makes it all the more interesting; instead of trying to bank off the grounds so graciously laid in the past, it makes its own road, a lone wolf in the land of the dead.
They Came Back shatters humanity’s frail condition. The idea of how someone would deal with a loved one coming back from the dead is addressed in a solemn, thought-provoking manner. There are three experiments that we follow throughout the film, each unique in their own ways. In every case, the struggle to cope with this sudden change is emotionally straining on a daily basis. Although these people are declared legally dead, they communicate and connect with their surroundings. Their emotions are complex enough, yet they still cannot cope with certain aspects of life. Their work doesn’t make sense, and their length leave of absence renders them difficult to understand. The only fear they convey is the fact that we know nothing about them or their intentions, and it’s a dread that everyone, both in and out of the film, can share.
Those seeking savagery in They Came Back will find it buried deep within the love that the characters carry for their resurrected friends and family. Bloodlusts will not be quenched here. But those in the mood for something to debate, think about, and appreciate for its unique take on the living dead will consider They Came Back a godsend. It’s a fresh take on a genre that deserves to return from the grave.