Review: 'Resurrection' is no zombie scarefest

03/07/2014 3:02 PM

03/07/2014 3:03 PM

Thanks to the ongoing zombie craze, we’ve been conditioned by TV and film to think that when people return from the dead, they do so as ghastly, lurching, moaning ghouls with sunken eyes, rotting flesh and really bad teeth.

But on the provocative new ABC drama “Resurrection,” when deceased residents of a small Missouri town begin to reappear, they look like their normal, regular selves.

In other words, it’s a makeup artist’s worst nightmare.

If you’re thinking this concept sounds familiar, you’re onto something. Last year, the Sundance Channel aired the eerie, critically acclaimed French series “Les Revenants” under the title of “The Returned.” It, too, focuses on a town where the dead live again, looking exactly the same as they had the day they expired.

“Resurrection” is not related to the French series, although it is based on a book by Jason Mott called “The Returned.” Confused yet?

Here’s what you need to know: “Resurrection” immediately sucks you in with the puzzling, suspenseful tale of an American boy (Landon Gimenez) who wakes up alone in a rice paddy in rural China with no clue how he got there. His predicament comes to the attention of an immigration agent, J. Martin Bellamy (Omar Epps), who eventually learns that the boy is named Jacob and is from the town of Arcadia.

His curiosity aroused, Bellamy delivers Jacob to the home he says is his – a residence occupied by a 60-year-old couple, Henry (Kurtwood Smith) and Lucille Langston (Frances Fisher), who lost their son, Jacob, in a drowning accident more than 30 years ago.

Naturally, the couple is shocked – and apprehensive. Is the kid pretending? Has he been coached? Is this some sick joke?

By the end of the first hour, another person allegedly has returned from the grave, unaged and unchanged. Arcadia residents start becoming unnerved. Autopsy reports are reviewed. DNA tests are ordered. A priest is consulted. Bellamy enlists the help of a local doctor (Devin Kelley) to help explain the unexplainable.

Although certainly chilling, “Resurrection” is not a shock-and-awe splatfest like “The Walking Dead.” Here, there’s no hint of an apocalypse. The reanimated corpses aren’t in flesh-eating attack mode. They have no memory of how they died and simply want to resume their lives.

While it may not terrify viewers with violence and sudden jolts, “Resurrection” does send shivers up your spine. Above all, it makes you think. In gauging the moods and emotions of its characters, it raises questions such as: How does someone who had achieved some sense of closure and moved on process such a thing? What is our relationship with death? And what do you do with that second chance?

Of course, it’s not easy for everyone to pick up exactly where they left off. While an overjoyed Lucille takes the apparent miracle of her son’s return at face value, a wary Henry has a much more difficult time with it. Meanwhile, in some cases, old wounds are reopened, tensions flare and feelings of guilt resurface.

Based on the two episodes that we’ve seen, “Resurrection” isn’t quite in the same league as “The Returned.” It’s not as atmospheric and artful, nor does it exude the same visceral sense of place. But taken on its own, it is an absorbing, well-paced, thoughtfully rendered production with a quality cast that ranks as one of the better new winter shows.

It remains to be seen whether it can sustain its high concept and keep us engaged in its mysteries. But for now, there’s plenty of life in “Resurrection.”

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