Retreat comes off as a film that will slip right under the radar and be seen at Redbox within a few months’ time. Even with the presence of a decent cast, (Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton, and Jamie Bell) the film topples throughout with some poor writing decisions. I was looking forward to Retreat because of the cast and the interesting premise. I didn’t have high hopes, I just expected something enjoyable and worth recommending. The film is tight and at times, claustrophobic and the short runtime does not help (or does help) with the sense of intensity. In the end, clunky writing prevents this tiny film from being something special.
Martin (Cilliam Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) are vacationing on an island off the coast of England to repair their marriage. They have drifted away from each other, and Kate’s miscarriage has thrown her into a depressive state. They go about their days on the island successfully ignoring each other as Kate, being a journalist, types on her computer and Martin goes outside to attend to island activities (i.e. fishing, walking, exploring). On one of the days, Kate sees a man stumbling up to their house, the couple goes out to grab him, only to find the man bloodied and out cold. When they get his unconscious body into the house, they discover a gun on him. Martin removes the gun and proceeds to hide it. When the man comes to, he tells them his name is Jake (Jamie Bell, aka, BILLY ELLIOT). Jake pulls Martin aside later and tells him that they need to board up the house because an outbreak has occurred. Martin, being the submissive man he is, agrees. The outbreak does not seem to be all it’s supposed to be and neither is Jake.
The concept is interesting, relying on a home invasion and outbreak setting to create a context. The couple is isolated on the island with this man, and there is no way to fact check the information he spits at them. The suspense keeps you wondering what’s really going on but that’s hardly enough to make for a “great” movie. The acting is, as expected, top notch. Thandie plays a distraught could-have-been mother that is taking out her anger on her husband because he is a pushover. Cillian Murphy, as always, is a joy onscreen. This time he brought back his Irish accent, playing a man fighting for dominance in the house against the psychopathic Jake.
The problem with Retreat is that the writing makes for a boring film devoid of any true emotion. There are a couple of tense scenes involving the struggle between Jake and Martin, but in actuality, the entire film should have been tense. The entire first hour involves couple being pushed around by Jake, and having them come up with poor escape attempts. The last half hour does get more interesting, but it still does not make it great. The film runs itself into a corner, so badly, that the final scene will make you cry out in pure anger. It’s a lazy ending that speaks to the lack of direction this film had. There are a few moments that require you to be emotionally involved, but because of the way it’s presented, you don’t feel for the outcome of the characters. I instead felt rather robbed by every decision in the final minutes of the film. I think it’s relatable to The Last Exorcism (which is a better film) in how the film presents itself as one way, then changes, then go back again to the original format. It’s all rather clunky.
Don’t get me wrong, Retreat has great performances and would not make for a bad rent or Netflix watch. The Alpha Dog struggle between Martin and Jake is engaging, as well as the rebuilding of Martin and Kate’s relationship throughout the course of the film. I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly, but if you have nothing to do, it’s watchable. It might just be worth it to see the bogus ending, but I’m not even sure about that.