that it had its UK premiere at a horror film festival (Grimm
Up North), Retreat’s writer / director
Carl Tibbetts seemed very keen to deny that he’d made a
horror film at all, continually referring to it as a ‘psychological
thriller’ – which just goes to show that despite the
revival of the genre amongst UK filmmakers in recent years, there
are still those who seem ashamed or embarrassed by the label.
In a way, though, he’s not wrong, as this is perhaps closer
in tone to a film like Eye of the Needle than
a straight-ahead horror tale, with snippets of Straw Dogs
and 28 Days Later thrown in.
The film is essentially a three hander, with Thandie Newton and
Cillian Murphy as Kate and Martin, a stereotypically troubled,
middle class couple (she’s a journalist, he’s an architect)
who head to a remote island for a holiday and to try to revive
their relationship after the death of an unborn child. When they
spot soldier Jack (Jamie Bell) collapsing on the supposedly deserted
island, they take him into their home, and are told by him that
the mainland is being swept with a new, 100% lethal infection.
Jack begins to board up the house to supposedly protect it from
infected invaders, but his erratic behaviour and aggressive style
suggests that he might not be telling the whole truth, and as
he tries to psychologically manipulate the couple, they soon find
themselves facing a fight for survival.
You might well read the above synopsis and imagine this to be
a tense thriller. But while it has its moments, the film plods
when it should sprint, has a couple of howling continuity errors
and struggles to convince. Bell doesn’t seem hard or psychotic
enough to play an unbalanced ‘villain’ who can effectively
keep two people prisoner, and while some have picked out Newton’s
performance as a high-spot, I found her utterly unconvincing –
she’s acting away furiously, but the sign of a good performance
is surely one you don’t notice, not one that continually
draws attention to itself. And Murphy is frankly wasted as a remarkably
bland character who is so dull that it’s hard to care much
about his eventual fate.
It’s well made though, with some great visual imagery, and
the final revelations are well handled. But there’s very
little here to lift the film out of the average. An interesting
idea that sadly fails to fulfil its potential, Retreat
isn’t really worth going out of your way to see.
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