Review: Retreat (15) / Directed by: Carl Tibbetts / Screenplay by: Carl Tibbetts and Janice Hallett / Starring: Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton, Jamie Bell
What’s this? A psychological three-hander about a married couple holed up in a cottage on a remote and windswept island visited by a mysterious and bloody stranger who tells them the world outside is being ravaged by a virulent pandemic? I’m in…
‘Retreat’ is the work of first time director/screenwriter Carl Tibbett and while it’s more of a ‘home invasion’ movie than an apocalyptic thriller (boo!) it’s a solid if workmanlike piece of work, a small-scale film impressively put together by a debut director who wears his influences - Roman Polanski amongst them - on his sleeve and who has managed to attract a fairly big name cast to what’s obviously a low budget movie.
Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton play Martin and Kate, a young couple who are struggling to rekindle the passion in their relationship after a devastating miscarriage. They head off for a few peaceful days on the horribly-isolated island of Blackholme where they enjoyed happier times as young lovers but, despite Martin’s cheeriest efforts, their relationship remains as cold and tempestuous as the weather outside. Suddenly an exhausted and blood-soaked soldier collapses virtually on their doorstep and, on recovering, he tells the couple that the world is being swept by a South American flu-like virus which leaves no survivors. Jack (Jamie Bell - that nice Billy Elliott) quickly takes over the house, boarding up the doors and windows to keep the airborne virus out and before long Martin and Kate are cowering prisoners in their own holiday home and they soon realise that Jack is rather more - or possibly even less - than he’s been telling them.
Familiar territory then, in films as diverse as ‘Funny Games’ and this year‘s ‘Mother’s Day’, as the sanctity of ‘the home’ is violated by a brutal outsider with the twist here being that there may be an even greater danger waiting outside the four walls which have become Kate and Martin’s prison and that escape from the man who’s quite clearly a psycopath could result in an ugly, painful death for both of them. But ‘Retreat’ seems to be too eager to shoot its bolt because Jack’s quite clearly nothing but trouble from the moment we set eyes on him; usually the ‘invaders’ in these sorts of films at first appear charming and compelling, disarming the audience who can’t help thinking something’s not quite right about these people who have inveigled their way into someone else’s home and yet never suspecting the depths of pain and degradation they’ll later be shown to inflict. Here Jack’s a wrong ’un from the off and even if his tale of the pandemic is believable, his own behaviour and reactions are so extreme and threatening - he’s dismantling the furniture and barking orders within minutes of waking up - we’re never fooled into letting our guard down, we never give his story any real credence and so we can’t really feel much sympathy for him later on when we discover what he’s really been through, especially because it turns out to be more bad news for Kate and Martin.
However, ‘Retreat’ remains a tense and absorbing, if relentlessly bleak and downbeat, experience. Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy give solid, powerful performances (sure, the chemistry between them isn‘t great, even when they’re reunited as a loving couple) and Jamie Bell is a bit of a revelation as the tough, thuggish Jack. Well-directed and atmospheric and thankfully not reliant on the torture-porn and gore of many ‘home invasion’ flicks, ‘Retreat’ doesn’t quite manage to fulfil the promise of its premise but it’s a confident and assured debut for a new British directing talent who, let’s hope, can be allowed to move on to bigger and bolder things.
Special features: Brief making of, photo gallery, trailer.
'Retreat' is out now on DVD/Blu-ray