A Fantastic Fest 2011 review
Jamie Bell as Jack
Cillian Murphy as Martin
Thandie Newton as Kate
Directed by Carl Tibbetts
Many of today’s genre films start strong but fizzle out with weak endings â evidence that the writer knew how to lure in an audience, but didn’t know how to leave them wanting more. Retreat is the antithesis of this. That’s not to say, this thriller’s build-up doesn’t elicit mystery and tension, it’s just that it’s familiar and predictable. The upside is that the latter half of the film is where things really get interesting and, by the end, you might be left with your jaw on the floor.
Retreat carries light shades of Isle of the Dead (minus the vampiric angle). In that 1942 film, an island of plague-afflicted residents is quarantined. Retreat flips the concept on its head. Here, a couple trying to salvage their relationship rent a cottage on a small island. They’re the only ones there, until a soldier seemingly washes ashore claiming a virus is spreading and the three of them must take shelter inside the home and defend it at all costs in fear of being infected. Paranoia and dissent develops when the wife doesn’t believe a word the soldier has said. But he’s a hardened brute with weapons training, and he’s not going to be taken down without a fight.
The drama of the situation is rooted in the angst between Martin (Murphy) and Kate (Newton). Utilizing the old crutch that is the “losing a child” plot point, Retreat marinates in their sorrow, hitting well-known beats: Kate’s still mourning, Martin’s trying to make things better, Kate resents him and is convinced he never wanted a child in the first place. You get the picture. When a chiseled Jamie Bell’s Jack shows with âcrazyâ in his eyes, the film takes a refreshing breather from the norm but quickly becomes hobbled by the fact that you cannot believe Martin would be so easily gullible to fall for Jack’s actions.
The audience is suspect of Jack, Martin should be, too; that’s not the case, so we immediately begin to loathe Martin’s stupidity, and, hate the fact that we’re getting ahead of the movie.
Director Carl Tibbetts turns things around once Martin and Kate take strides to fight back, escape the boarded up confines of their home and opt to take a risk outside in a supposedly “infected” world. Tables are repeatedly turned, the stakes are raised in an intelligent way and the scenario transforms into a contained Straw Dogs where the threat isn’t from outside, it’s from within. Predictability shatters and the ending leaves you scrambling to keep up until its pitch-perfect climax.
Performances across the board are well-handled. Bell excels above all, however, throwing himself full force into the layered mania of Jack. And kudos to Tibbetts for making a handsome-looking, impressive directorial debut. Retreat should not be dismissed by any means.