Post-Buffy role marks a Return to form for Gellar

The Return

on February 06, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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With the exception of the Scooby-Doo movies, which toy with the genre rather than mark a departure from it, Sarah Michelle Gellar's post- Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie career has, disappointingly, rarely diverged from the horror/thriller variety. But here, just weeks since her cameo appearance in The Grudge 2 and just as one fears she may be unable to escape being pigeon-holed in a familiar role, arrives her most mature, intelligent and challenging turn yet. Driven by imagery rather than dialogue, rising tension rather than action, The Return depends on the actress' ability to convey plot development through subtle changes in expression rather than the kick-boxing moves for which she's become known.

Set in the Midwest, where little girls drive big trucks and men work in cattle yards, Joanna (Gellar) excels in her work as a traveling saleswoman for a trucking company mostly because it keeps her on the move. When a business trip brings her back to her home state of Texas, she feels drawn to a small town to which she should have no connection by nightmares in which she re-experiences the brutal murder of a young woman. When she crosses paths with Terry (Australian Peter O'Brien, in his first American role), she intuits and then discovers her connection to the victim.

The casting of O'Brien is particularly effective, as his unfamiliarity to viewers leaves his intent open to question. A good 15 years older than Joanna, Terry is less rugged- than hard-looking but with a palpable virility to which she is drawn. Meanwhile, although sometimes their shot composition renders it difficult to orient oneself in the scene, British director Asif Kapadia and cinematographer Roman Osin, who made The Warrior together, have crafted a gorgeously photographed film, shooting in scope and utilizing bleach bypass, in which silver is retained in the dye, to achieve stark imagery that captures the desolate rural landscape and its feeling of isolation. Only the too-convenient arrival of Joanna's stalker ex mars an otherwise tightly plotted film. Distributor: Rogue
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Peter O'Brien, Adam Scott, Kate Behan and Sam Shepard
Director: Asif Kapadia
Screenwriter: Adam Sussman
Producers: Aaron Ryder and Jeffrey Silver
Genre: Thriller
Rating: PG-13 for violence, terror and disturbing images
Running time: 85 min.
Release date: November 10, 2006

Tags: Rogue, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Peter O'Brien, Adam Scott, Kate Behan, Sam Shepard, Asif Kapadia, Adam Sussman, Aaron Ryder, Jeffrey Silver, Thriller, mature, escape, challenging, expression, kick-boxing
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