When it comes to contemporary horror flicks, the tortured souls of the unjustly murdered contact the living so often they should have their own calling plan. Need a little help bringing your attacker to justice from beyond the grave? Dial up some poor, unsuspecting sucker, toss a couple of bones, er…clues their way, and pray for sweet, soulful vindication. In the case of Asif Kapadia’s supernatural thriller, The Return, traveling sales representative Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) finds herself inexplicably haunted by visions of a young woman’s murder, which lead her to the small town of La Salle, Texas. Once there, the plucky amateur investigator visits a few neighborhood hotspots that—though eerily familiar—she swears she’s never been to before, taking time out only to partially re-enact the crime by falling into a trance and stabbing herself whenever she discovers a major clue. Along the way, Joanna avoids her sexually aggressive co-worker (Adam Scott), seeks advice from her estranged father (Sam Shepard), and falls into the arms of brooding country-boy Terry (Peter O’Brien)—whose deceased girlfriend bares more than a passing resemblance to the strange face Joanna’s been seeing in the mirror. Unfortunately, Kapadia’s sense of direction is as aimless as his one-dimensional characters: With little else to do but plod from Point A to Point B looking scared shitless, the raven-haired Gellar spends most of the film’s 85 minutes more clueless than the audience. “Sometimes I think if I keep moving forward,” Joanna says to a friend concerned about her restlessness, “nothing bad can catch me.” First-time screenwriter Adam Sussman, however, proves her wrong: At the end of his linear script awaits a twist ending that, despite being foreshadowed throughout the entire film, somehow manages to resolve very little. By the time the credits begin rolling, the connection between Joanna, Terry, and Terry’s dead girlfriend remains an open-ended one—a turn of events that is probably even less consolation for the deceased than for the audience that paid to watch it unfold. After all, shelling out 10 bucks to see a ho-hum thriller such as The Return isn’t cheap, but long-distance calling charges from the afterlife have to be absolute murder.

—Matthew Borlik

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