"The Return" is an apt title for a template thriller with Sarah Michelle Gellar in a familiar ghost-hunting role. She portrays a woman who...

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“The Return” is an apt title for a template thriller with Sarah Michelle Gellar in a familiar ghost-hunting role. She portrays a woman who visits a spooky town where a murder took place years ago, a crime that has never been solved. Somehow, she has memories of the incident and must confront the killer to end her nightmares.

The idea of Gellar unearthing hidden truths to help the dead rest in peace is reminiscent of “The Grudge,” except this time she’s in Texas, not Tokyo, and the murder scene is a barn instead of a creaky house. The key thing that distinguishes the new movie from its predecessor is its total absence of scares.

It’s strange that the actress chose to star in this picture in lieu of leading the cast in “The Grudge 2” (she made only a cameo appearance). While that sequel was blah, “The Return” is worse.

The slow, uneventful film — not screened for critics — offers no visual ingenuity, just some cheap shocks courtesy of crashing sound cues. The movie’s biggest riddle is whatever happened to the credibility of Sam Shepard, collecting a paycheck for a few scenes as Gellar’s dubious dad.

British filmmaker Asif Kapadia (“The Warrior”) has a repertoire of second-hand Hitchcock camera moves, along with a harrowing amount of pretense. It’s like he can’t even be bothered trying to entertain the audience. The script, by newcomer Adam Sussman, hinges on irrational behavior by the main character and everyone around her.

Joanna (Gellar) is a sullen woman who hails from Texas yet speaks with the diction of a Scarsdale debutante. She sells trucks for a living, always on the move, never getting close to anyone, scarred by something that happened to her during her childhood. Because of the trauma, she sees dead people. Well, one dead person at least. She has visions of a woman stalked by a creep who looks like he’s related to Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

On the road one day, Joanna follows the signs to a town called La Salle, a place she’s never been yet mysteriously remembers. There, she meets a guy (Peter O’Brien) with some baggage of his own. She is drawn to him for reasons she can’t fathom. He may have the information she needs to construe the nightmares that have been plaguing her all these years, or perhaps it’s just his vague resemblance to Sawyer on “Lost.”

Now playing

“The Return,” with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sam Shepard and Peter O’Brien. Directed by Asif Kapadia from a screenplay by Adam Sussman. 84 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, strong language and social drinking. Several theaters.

“The Return” is routine in its depiction of a waifish young woman surrounded by men with predatory qualities. It’s sad to see Buffy so disempowered.