Sony // 2011 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // February 22nd, 2012
No neighbors. No help. No escape.
Things have a tendency to go from bad to worse for married people in the movies. When a marriage is on the rocks, that's the perfect time for a life and death struggle, courtesy of a third party, to spice up the relationship. Retreat borrows moments and moods from couples' therapy thrillers like Dead Calm and Straw Dogs. The added twist of a deadly airborne virus isn't quite enough to elevate director and co-writer Carl Tibbetts's feature debut in the annals of originality.
Martin (Cillian Murphy, In Time) and Kate (Thandie Newton, 2012) return to a secluded island retreat where they hope to save their marriage. The failing relationship between the architect and journalist, respectively, suffered a further setback after the stillbirth of their first child. When a bloodied young man arrives on the deserted island, the couple takes him in to recover. Jack (Jamie Bell, The Eagle), dressed in army fatigues, tells them that an apocalyptic virus is rapidly spreading across Europe. Their only chance of survival is to seal themselves in the cabin, living together "like a family" until the danger (from the air and from infected persons) has passed. Martin and Kate are rightly suspicious but they play along with Jack until they can figure a way to escape from the crazy and potentially homicidal man.
A thriller like Retreat depends so much on the believability of its characters. Will the couple, terrorized and held hostage, earn our empathy? Do their emotions feel real? Are their actions smart and reasonable? The situation and the threat could be absurd but if the protagonists behave in a way that makes us think, "that is possibly what I'd do too" then we're along for a riveting thriller. However, if a protagonist's behavior frustrates us, we're prone to think, "I'd be willing to sacrifice him to save myself." Unfortunately, Kate and Martin aren't quite willing to put in the effort to save themselves.
Martin is an architect and any movie husband that earns a living by using his head must be a feckless shell of masculinity. It takes him an eternity to disarm Jack when he's unconscious. At the first sign of a threat, Martin puts the gun back in Jack's hands -- though it's plainly obvious that he's being tricked. We can't expect this character to instantly go into action hero mode but it's takes too long for Martin to show a little backbone.
Kate oscillates between displays of icy defiance and hysterical crying. Seeing her mostly at these two extremes, it's difficult to get a read on what she's thinking. Aside from a predictable but brief moment when she pretends to be friendly with Jack so she can seize an opportunity against him, Kate isn't given much to do besides cowering beside her husband when she isn't criticizing his actions.
With actors Murphy and Newton as the married couple, we expect these protagonists to be much smarter than the script allows. They become Jack's hostages too quickly and then they mount a series of ineffectual revolts against him too late. Jamie Bell puts in an intense performance as Jack but the script only requires a one-dimensional bad guy. From his first appearance, Jack seems unhinged and not the least trustworthy. Too creepy and unlikable, it doesn't make sense that his unwitting hosts would allow him to establish such a foothold in their lives. But for the sake of the movie, Martin and Kate have to be pushovers and they have to make dumb moves or they wouldn't be in this situation.
The DVD treatment of Retreat is decent but nothing to get excited over. The overall look is rather dusty and warm. Colors look subdued but natural. The darker scenes don't retain a lot of detail in the shadows but the picture is clean of physical and digital blemishes. The surround sound mix doesn't offer anything to distinguish itself although dialogue is mostly clear.
The only supplements on the disc are the movie's trailer and an EPK-style making-of featurette.
As an exercise in staging tense moments in confined spaces with a limited cast, Retreat is a respectable effort. The environment is contained in the few rooms of the island cottage and the sense that there isn't any space for the characters to run and hide is well conveyed. The movie adheres to the spatial rules of this hostage thriller and does well within those restrictions.
Retreat is a frustrating thriller because we expect the characters to act much smarter than they actually do. The power struggle that makes up much of the movie feels familiar with not enough at stake. Jack's story of the apocalyptic virus isn't given the chance to insinuate itself into the viewer's mind as a plausible reason for his craziness. That's too bad because the movie could have been much more interesting if we questioned whether Kate and Martin were doing the right thing by fighting against him. The final story twists leave us unmoved because we have nothing invested in the plight of these characters.
For being as potent as a placebo, we find this movie guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 William Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R