A dramatic three-hander with a cast that belies its low-budget, Retreat stars Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton as Martin and Kate, a married couple whose relationship is on the rocks. In order to get their heads round a recent trauma, they head to a remote island in a bid to rekindle a lost spark of intimacy, staying in an isolated cottage a good boat journey from the mainland. They don’t have a particularly good time of it though, with the electricity generator failing and the CB radio (their only contact with the mainland) malfunctioning soon after they arrive, and this bad time is made considerably worse when Jamie Bell turns up as Jack: a bloodied and mysterious soldier with a gun and Earth-shattering news about a global pandemic that’s killing everyone.
Under duress the couple help Jack to seal the doors and windows of the cottage against the supposed airborne virus – trapping them inside. However they aren’t sure whether to believe him and are considerably more scared of him than they are of the fatal disease. Will they overpower and kill Jack? Will he kill them? Will they all die of the disease? Does the disease even exist?
Writer-director Carl Tibbetts‘ has cited early Polanski films (such as Rosemary’s Baby and Cul-de-sac) and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs as the inspiration for his thriller, but it actually calls to mind 2009 psychological thriller Exam directed by Stuart Hazeldine – not in terms of plot, but by virtue of being a small British debut feature with an interesting cast, ingenious use of a limited location and a decent central concept. But like that earlier Brit-flick, Retreat is competently made but ultimately underwhelming.
It’s difficult to pin down the precise problem with Retreat, which is solidly scripted and boasts really good performances – particularly from Bell who is a revelation in this role as a volatile and ambiguous antagonist. Some actors struggle to break type and, with his breakthrough turn in Billy Elliot and potentially star-making role as boyish hero Tintin in the upcoming Spielberg adventure, Bell could strike some as a weak and unconvincing choice for a dangerous, potentially psychopathic threat. But that’s not an impression many people will leave the film with, as the actor shows he can be an intimidating physical presence despite his slight frame.
Tibbetts also makes good use of his one location changing the space – an old thatched cottage in North Wales – in creative ways, with most of the furniture being demolished for one reason or another over the movie and with plastic sheets tapped over the windows (to keep the virus out) providing a neat excuse for various atmospheric light filters. Instead Retreat suffers from pacing issues (it’s around 20 minutes too long with a laboured finale) and also from some very obvious musical cues which are a little on the nose and actually break the atmosphere. A tight little thriller like this can live or die on its score and unfortunately composer Ilan Eshkeri’s work here fails to build any tension.
A 16 minute “making of” featurette (not HD), some production photos and a theatrical trailer make up the extras for this Blu-ray edition of the film.
The doc isn’t terrible but it basically just explains, step-by-step what the plot of the film is from beginning to end, which is pointless if you’ve seen the film and unwelcome if you haven’t. The most interesting moment is when producer Gary Sinyor (director of 1999 Chris O’Donnell vehicle The Bachelor, trivia fans) reveals that the filmmakers “didn’t want to make something that goes straight to DVD” – and yet here it is on the format days after a perfunctory theatrical release.