Sunday, 30 October 2011

Halloween Weekender Review: Retreat (DVD & Blu-ray)

Rating: 15
Duration: 90 mins

Debutant Carl Tibbetts throws himself into the thick of things with an intense, as well as ambitious film with a stellar cast of Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell. Set in the Scottish Highlands on a secluded island, James (Murphy), and wife, Angie (Newton), seek a getaway in an attempt to save their crumbling marriage. The motives behind such discontent are revealed gradually and heavy-handedly, as the pair separate themselves from the world and, ironically, more so from each other, as the sole inhabitants of an offshore cottage. That is until they spot an unconscious and badly injured soldier, Jack (Bell). Call it good-natured kindness or questionable naivety; they return him to their cottage and offer him aid. And from here on out, this is where the subsequent story takes place with these three characters alone, bar a brief appearance from a mainland local cum holiday home owner.

What Retreat tries to do is imitate such isolation themed successes as Phone Booth, Castaway or Cabin Fever, yet doesn’t quite pull it off as smoothly or with the same intensity. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile attempt - a feature shot exclusively on location, in a mere four weeks - as it uses themes of paranoia, trust and panic within the tight confines of a home. Claustrophobia is the name of the game, as our protagonists’ arcs play out inside the cramped, cold walls as it becomes a very character driven piece and ultimately sinks or swims based on their performances. Assuredly, the acting is of a good standard, notably due to the calibre on offer. However, it is the script that, whilst at times is well executed, is the potential hiccup. Some back-story is too overt in its explanation, and on a few occasions the leads are forced to overact in order to accentuate the weaker scenes. No doubt the ability of said actors is the gelling agent that keeps everything flowing at an amicable pace.

Certainly Tibbets creates tension and has an interesting script/visionary combo that renders the actions of Jack suspicious even to us, as we feel very much in the position of James and Angie who often exert paranoia similar to characters in Straw Dogs or Funny Games. There is a familiar house-arrest, fear-of-God resemblance, which does work well, especially for the played-down finale. Well thought poignancy of the final scene actually gives the film added credibility, as it could have easily adhered to cliché or silly conclusion that could have, and surely would have killed the film in its tracks.

Retreat is a simple story of isolation that proves you don’t need buckets of money to assemble a top quality cast and produce a decent picture. The story and script perhaps wither as times, but overall it's a good first attempt for the Brit writer/director.