IMDB summary: Kate (Thandie Newton) and Martin (Cillian Murphy) escape from personal tragedy to an Island Retreat. Cut off from the outside world, their attempts to recover are shattered when a Man (Jamie Bell) is washed ashore, with news of airborne killer disease that is sweeping through Europe.
An unexceptional chamber-piece thriller that never firmly realizes its inspired concept, Retreat falls short of its promise. In the too little, too late department, it takes a smart curve in its last twenty minutes that hooks with its dire connotations.
The actors here each bring their talent to the table, although I admit that this would have been much more engaging with older thespians Jason Issacs and David Tennant in the male leads, as was originally intended. Sadly, the three actors are servicing a screenplay that cheats the potential of its conceit, but they do a lot with flimsy conflicts and underwritten roles.
Most of the film hinges on the question of whether or not Jamie Bell’s character Jack is telling the truth; is there a virus wiping out the population? Must they border themselves up in their isolated former dream cottage, entirely shut out from communicating and confirming the information given to them from this sketchy lone source? Using the perspective of Murphy and Newton, their ignorance persuasively causes their all-too conscious confinement by their cottage construct that previously gave them comfort in the early days of their marriage. That’s a lot of C’s. They are being held in by a place where the cut off location was once considered a winning factor.
But getting back to the matter-at-hand, the question of whether or not Bell is telling the truth never becomes a question for us. Even if one hasn’t seen the trailer, it is immediately clear that Bell is steeped in deception. Retreat would be much more varied and potent had Jack been first presented with less menace and more affable but desperate victim. Then, his threatening nature would show itself as the film progresses before shifting into the finale, which presents information that very much changes how we view Jack and his actions up until that point. This way, there would have been three different modes and functions for Bell’s character. Instead, his immediate menace cements itself into a tired dynamic between the three characters, too redundant to take us anywhere interesting. Would it have duped the audience into believing Jack is telling the truth? Probably not, but Retreat, and all films, need to be able to make the ride interesting despite what the audience may or may not know from a basic plot synopsis or trailer.
Martin and Kate’s marriage is, you guessed it, on-the-rocks, in a flat-out weak subplot that is meant to intermittently mesh with the primary conflict. It takes appropriate time to establish their interplay, which chugs along with internal domestic strife. It plays like a first-draft set-up by screenwriters Janice Hallett and Carl Tibbets, done out of first-act obligation. Do we care? No. Does it matter? No. Desperately keeping the couple’s turmoil afloat, Jack throws out insinuations that question Martin’s manhood and dominance within his marriage. This is Straw Dogs-lite kind of stuff; a tired manhood-ridden retread that goes nowhere and helps throw Newton’s character and performance into a cycle of implore, complain, attempt action and cry. Rinse and repeat.
Retreat is competently made by first-time director Tibbets and assuredly shot, taking advantage of the gorgeous Wales setting. It garners strong work from Bell and Murphy who do more than many actors would be able to with these roles, reminding us they are dependable sources of quality work. This is an example of a film I would want to be remade in twenty or thirty years. This could be a spellbinder one day if someone can extract and refine the ideas that are there. For now, we will have to settle for this average outing.