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Three is a magic number. As we all know, it’s perfect for learning,
a la SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, and the standard for taut, twisty character thrillers, a
la KNIFE IN THE WATER and DEAD CALM. Taking a stab at the latter, Carl Tibbetts’
RETREAT shoots for frustrating claustrophobia without escape, but comes up
short of the bar set by the aforementioned and very fondly remembered titles.
The quite picturesque film sees married couple Martin (28
DAYS LATER’s Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton)—as so many cinematic
married couples do when their union is falling apart—leave their hectic lives for
a calm vacation to reconnect following a miscarriage. Their destination of
choice finds them in a cabin, on the unpopulated Blackholme Island off the
coast of Scotland, that holds particularly lovely memories for them. Soon, the
already uncomfortable air is further distressed by the arrival of the injured Jack
(Jamie Bell), who claims the outside world has begun succumbing to an epidemic
and they must isolate themselves in the cabin for safety. Manipulation,
aggression and unexpected reveals ensue.
Gorgeously shot—especially the contrast of the wide and
beautiful seaside landscape of the world outside, versus the close quarters the
lead trio share—and well-acted by its small, yet notable cast, RETREAT’s story
is what’s most lacking, and it’s evident from the outset. There’s very little
to draw you in as close as necessary to really care about the fate of Martin and
Kate’s marriage, something emphasized by their cinematically oft-treaded central
The film undoubtedly picks up, however, upon the arrival of
Jack, a manic soldier hell-bent on self-preservation. Like most uninvited
strangers, he’s unreasonably aggressive and temperamental, serving to both
unite and divide the unhappy couple in several tense and stark moments, even
despite said moments hitting familiar beats (asserting and questioning
masculinity, sexual power and mind games). As RETREAT gains speed, with its
three stars elevating the proceedings as best they can, it serves to truly build to a
memorable and visceral climax that brings Kate and Martin face-to-face with the
expectedly concealed truth.
However, once removed from the moment, it’s evident that the
film follows an ultimately disappointing trajectory. After winning an audience over
from its lackluster start with a seemingly terrific ending, the realization
that the preceding actions were fairly hollow isn’t far behind. While,
well-intentioned and as stated, effective, the reveal upon which RETREAT hinges
itself forces one to deem the entirety of the characters’ actions unnecessary, and sinks the film itself back down to nothing remarkable.
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