February 19, 2012

Filthy Review - Retreat

Retreat (2011)

Review by Jude Felton

The home invasion movie, when done well, can prove to be a truly scary event. It plays into our deepest fears of having the one place we truly feel safe threatened. Over recent years we’ve had, to varying degrees of success, movies such as Ils (Them), A l’interieur (Inside), The Strangers and Cherry Tree Lane. All have the same basic home invasion premise and all kept the action limited, for the most part, to one location which adds to the sense of confinement.

Now we have a newcomer to this sub-genre, and one from a first time writer and director, which for me bore more similarities to the 1989 thriller Dead Calm. Not necessarily in terms of the execution of the plot, but more in terms of a husband and wife isolated from the rest of the world having to deal with an intruder into their lives.

Retreat follows Martin and Kate (Cilliam Murphy and Thandie Newton), a married couple who travel to a family vacation home on an isolated island in order to come to terms with a family tragedy. Whilst there they happen across Jack (Jamie Bell), a visibly bloodied but unconscious young soldier, who they take into their home in order to help him. Upon awakening Jack tells Martin of a flu pandemic that is sweeping across the mainland, so they must secure the house in order to protect themselves.

What writer/director Carl Tibbetts manages to do in this film incredibly well is maintain the sense of paranoia and isolation. You don’t know what is going on in the outside world, and you have no idea as to whether Jack is telling the truth or not. Is there really a disease? Is he a psychopath? These are questions I won’t answer, but they are just some of the questions you will find yourself asking during this film.

Retreat could very well have been a mundane, run-of-the-mill thriller had it not been for a few key elements, the first being the aforementioned clever plot development that keeps us guessing. As well as that the movie is shot in a superb location, the island is tiny, barren and truly in the middle of nowhere, which only heightens the atmosphere. Then you have the wonderful cast. Aside from the three principles there are only a couple of other characters in the entire movie, so the movie either wins or loses on the strength of the three leads. Quite how a first time writer/director managed to score Murphy, Newton and Bell is beyond me, but he did and they all turn in very good performances.

The dynamics between the characters are executed incredibly well. There is already an uneasy tension between Martin and Kate, so when Jack is added to the mix it reaches new heights. Although both Murphy and Newton play their respective roles well, both being believable in dealing with both the tragedy and their visitor, it is Bell that really steals the show. He never overacts the part, instead delivering an almost schizophrenic turn as Jack.

Retreat is light on action and bloodshed, although there are both, instead it focuses on the characters and the situation itself, which for this particular film works incredibly well. There is also room for a couple of genuine shocks, that even if you see them coming still manage to prove effective. Add to this this claustrophobic cinematography and effective score and you have a solid, if slightly flawed, thriller.

Retreat might not float everyone’s boat, especially those that prefer a more crash bang approach to their movies, but if you are looking for a solid character driven piece that keeps you guessing and slowly ratchets up the tension, I suggest you give Retreat a spin.

Retreat is released on DVD and Digital through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on February 21st

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