RETREAT Review: Dead Calm On Land

Carl Tibbetts' debut feature is a claustrophobic thriller starring Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and an intense and intimidating performance from Jamie Bell.

rating: 3

For too long there has been a gap in the market for smart thrillers but with the recent releases of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Debt, the genre is coming back in a big way and new director Carl Tibbetts' debut movie Retreat is another welcomed hit. Troubled married couple Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) take a vacation back to the unpopulated Blackholme Island in an attempt to repair their relationship. As tensions begin to grow they are interrupted by the arrival of the bloodied and unconscious army-fatigue wearing Jack (Jamie Bell). He informs them that a lethal air-borne virus has been released on the mainland and that their only hope of survival is to lock down and seal all three of them inside the holiday cottage. Retreat is a character based thriller that takes slow steps through the story. The majority of the plot revolves around Murphy and Newton as they navigate the complicated fissures of their marriage and the repercussions of the still-birth of their first child. It is this lack of trust that see-saws back and forth and a lot of time is taken to allow these tensions to play out and is reminiscent of horror films from the 70's that had an elongated ambient beginning before throwing in the first plot point. The opening of the Retreat, full of roaring wind, rambling wilds and rough vistas sets a beautiful contrast to the majority of the film that is restricted within the confines of one building. It is almost the 'volume' of nature surrounding them that enhances the horror of being trapped inside the cottage and you, as the audience, also feel the isolation of just a few walls. It is great to see a film with name actors that is a contained three-hander in one location and it is a story that relies on character to develop plot instead of action and external influences. Unfortunately for this kind of film to work there needs to be characters that are layered and allow for shifts within the conflict narrative instead of repetition. Murphy is one of Britain's great actors and is able to imbue such a variety of characters with heart and truth. Likewise Newton has proven many times her ability to portray the layers of a complicated individual. Here however they are forced into a relationship that feels one dimensional. So much of the time spent setting up their arcs seems to be little more than echoes of the same angst that continues throughout the film but without evolution. I struggled to believe that there was ever any real connection between them. Bell's character is intimidating and sinister from the moment he awakens. His aggressive intent permeates the film and is the cause for the growing tension. Is there a pandemic or is he just a dangerous stranger? I was taken aback by how confronting and raw his performance is. He steals the show. But once again the single dimension of his 'evil' character becomes repetitive as we are supposed to wonder whether he really is or not. Retreat feels like a terrestrial version of Dead Calm with a similar story dynamic, but without the complex characters that make Dead Calm a classic that is still intense to watch to this day. Retreat is missing the believable relationships, the likeability of Billy Zane's performance and the true sense of terror. Having said this the film does build tension and claustrophobia as Martin and Kate attempt to solve the puzzle that is Jack and stay alive in the process. They are in danger from both the possible virus, Jack himself and from their mistrust of each other. Once Retreat hits its final act it pays out the time you have committed with great plot twists and turns that keep you guessing til the very end. There is not one moment during this film that I wasn't trying to work out what was going on, even though at times I found this distracting. Retreat is a good film that will pull you into the tension and leave you surprised. Retreat is released in UK cinemas on 14th October 2011
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A director & cinematographer by trade, but a Geek by choice. David grew up on the beaches of Sydney, Australia where he spent most sunny days indoors organsing his ever-expanding comic collection. Snubbed by the world at large, he wrapped himself in the sweet, sweet tales of the Marvel Universe and only resurfaces for Cheezels.