Retreat is a film that you should seek out only if you like the actors headlining the cast, or if you have a particular love of the single-setting thriller sub-genre.
Single-setting thrillers are a sub-genre of film that require two key ingredients: 1) A plausible premise that keeps the action centered in one location. 2) A cast of talented actors who can fill the unblinking screen time with engaging and energetic performances. Carl Tibbetts’ Retreat definitely has the latter, with its cast of impressive actors (Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell); however, when it comes to the former, the film definitely stumbles.
Murphy and Newton star as married couple Martin and Kate. After a suffering a devastating personal loss, the couple leave London to spend some quiet time in their remote cabin on Blackholme Island, off the west coast of Scotland. While at the cabin, the couple repeatedly try (and fail) to heal their respective scars and rekindle their marriage – but all their issues get put aside when a mysterious stranger (Jamie Bell) comes stumbling into view, covered in blood.
The couple take in the battered man and discover he’s armed with a gun. The stranger says his name is Jack, and that he’s a private in the military who made his way to the island in order to escape a deadly virus that is wiping out the populace. Without a second’s hesitation, Jack dictates to Kate and Martin that their only chance of mutual survival is to seal the cabin up; no outsiders can enter, and no one in the cabin can leave. Martin and Kate begin to panic, but cannot agree on whether they should believe Jack or not. From there, that old saying about “Two’s company, three’s a crowd,” plays itself out, as loyalty and sanity all get put to the test.
Retreat looks and feels very much like indie fare. The camera work and production values are bare bones, and Tibbetts (who is directing his first feature-film) is obviously trying to make the most out of what little he has. Lucky for him, one thing he has is a talented cast.
Newton is an underrated actress, though regrettably, her character here is very thin, cliched, and comes off as annoying for most of the story. It’s Murphy and Bell who really carry the film: the former has that quiet intensity hid behind icy blue eyes and a thin frame, and that keeps the buttoned-down Martin somewhat unpredictable in terms of what lengths he will go in order to survive. Bell is a strong presence in just about anything he’s been in, and he makes Jack a dominating, manic, yet still vulnerable and cunning man, whose motives and sanity are a constant question mark (Is he crazy? Is he lying? Could he be possibly telling the truth?). Not many young actors could pull such a pivotal role off in such an exciting, confident way, and Bell deserves credit.
The script (co-written by first-timer Janice Hallett and Tibbetts) is solid enough, and even manages a nice twist or two. However, the film definitely buckles under the weight of the questions it raises about the logic of the characters and their choices. A single-setting thriller has the hard task of making you accept that characters faced with an extreme situation would choose to – or are forced to – remain in one place, rather than simply walking away from the situation. Sure, technically you could nitpick any piece of cinema to death over the issue of believability, but if plot holes or questionable choices are distracting you while you’re watching the film, the scriptwriter has not accomplished his/her task as skillfully as they should have. Suspension of disbelief is doubly crucial in a single-setting thriller, meaning it’s doubly as problematic when disbelief and doubt overtake the viewing experience.
In the end, Retreat is a film that you should seek out only if you like the actors headlining the cast, or if you have a particular love of the single-setting thriller sub-genre. Otherwise, you’re likely to…(wait for it) retreat from watching this movie, before you ever make it to the twist ending.
Check out the trailer for Retreat below:
Retreat is now playing in limited release in US theaters.