Gellar stars as Joanna, a young woman who...looks at things....as she attempts to figure out what the heck is going, which is weird because that's exactly what the audience does at the same time! Joanna is plagued by nightmares and visions and perhaps a dude in cruddy overalls who insists he just wants to talk to her but come on- we all know that he really wants to kill her.
And that's about it, for 90 minutes. The pieces sloooowly (those extra "o"s indicate emphasis with a capital HOLY CRAP THIS MOVIE IS QUIET AND SLOW BUT NOT IN A WAY THAT'S, LIKE, ATMOSPHERIC MORE JUST LIKE YOU WILL NOD OFF) come together as Joanna confronts her past and looks at more and more things. If you've ever said to yourself or someone else "You know, I really like the long-haired ghost girl Asian horror movies, like Ringu and stuff? But I don't like the scary parts, I only really like the mystery!", then you will be touching yourself or someone else over The Return- it plays like the obligatory mystery portion of an Asian ghost-filled horror flick. The film arrived during that wave of Asia Remake-a-Mania and because Gellar also starred in the wildly successful The Grudge, posters and ads were all "Oh yeah, you love this Asian shit and look! Sarah Michelle Gellar is here and she was in The Grudge and that was scary, so you know The Return is going to be scary because why would we lie?", but lie they did! The Return is far more thriller than horror; Joanna needs to solve the mystery not to bust ghosts or what have you, but so she can make an attempt at having a well-adjusted life.
As Joanna, Gellar is...well, it's hard to say. It's difficult to bring much energy to a lethargic film and a role that requires lots of...you know, looking. To be honest, it's difficult for me to judge Sarah Michelle Gellar objectively because of Buffy. It's probably ridiculous, but she's just one of those people- like Kristen Bell (Veronica fucking Mars) or everyone on Battlestar Galactica- who will always get a pass from me. She could be the worst actress to have ever drawn a breath, and I will just not see it. But while watching The Return, I admit, I felt a tug of "I guess she needed to pay the mortgage..." in my brain. I felt it tug harder when Sam Shepard showed up, though, so there you go.
I suppose it's not a terrible film. It sure looks nice, but the pacing absolutely kills it. When the pieces finally come together, you'll perhaps perk up a bit, realizing you've slumped far, far down into the sofa over the last 85 minutes. You'll have a drink of water, say "Oh, okay. Yeah, that's what I figured was going on.", turn it off, and shuffle off to bed for the night. Perhaps it's best to think of The Return as a sleep aid. It's like Lunesta for the eyes!
I'm not sure if that makes any sense, actually, but it'd still be a more appropriate marketing campaign for this movie.