This is the main theme of a new series which premiered two weeks ago. What is unusual about it is not that it is excellent, but that it is also French. Let's face it, this is not a format in which the French usually excel.
That's why the exceptions are notable: Canal Plus is the closest thing France has to HBO. They have produced a few very good TV shows such as Maison Close, or the very popular police drama Engrenages (Spiral in English), dubbed the French equivalent of 'The Wire'.
This time, Canal Plus has outperformed itself with Les Revenants, loosely based on a 2004 movie of the same name (released with the English title They Came Back). It is esthetically entrancing - the photography is sleek with cool colors that can be reminders of north-european productions such as The Killing (Forbrydelsen).
The location is a modern town in the mountains which offers a mix of geometrical buildings, well-trimmed landscapes and the wilderness of the mountains looming in the background. Nature has been tamed, yet something unnatural seems to be threatening (clues: power outages and the mysterious disappearing of the water in the dam). There is also a sort of savagery in some of the characters, as if the beasty nature of man was about to come out.
Of course, the return of the dead is a good way to tackle deep issues and basic emotions such as fear, pain, love, anger, as well as questions of faith, religion and the resurrection. Not so common in French shows.
The writing is quite good - each character has a unique reaction, coherent with his or her story and personality, very much the way each individuals may react differently to the death of a close one. It is a sort of mourning in reverse: denial, disbelief, anger, depression and acceptance. If you have ever lost someone you loved, you can't help thinking how you'd react.
In addition to the return of the dead, there are many other elements of strangeness and mystery, which appear to be so many clues of a larger mystery, a bit like the cult show Twin Peaks. Here as well, the pace is rather slow, the atmosphere somewhat oppressive and heavily charged, and the mundane gets suddenly interrupted by the uncanny.
There are secrets, and there is sheer evil, both now and in the past, and it is hard to figure out where the evil really is. Each character seems tormented by the past, and on the verge of losing his or her mind, and in way, the living seem to be actually "deader" than the dead.
The secret of high quality show is clear: good writing and money: - Canal + spent 11 million euros and 5 years on this show for only 8 episodes. And I bet you'll hear of it. I'd be surprised if it didn't end up as another show adaptation on American television.
To get a better idea, have a look at the following video of the credits. It's very much like the credits done by HBO for their high-end shows. Among other things, they use one of my favorite camera effect: the tilt shift photography which gives the impression of a miniature scene. The original music by Scottish band Mogwai is also perfect for this show.
You can also check out their game-like websites: http://lesrevenants.canalplus.fr/#!/