Film Review: Retreat

(Published on Lost In The Multiplex and BritScene, and read in In Retrospect – Issue 3)


This month sees the release of two very different takes on the widespread of a killer virus. The first with Retreat, a psychological, British thriller directed by Carl Tibbetts, and the second with an American thriller, Contagion, which you can read here.

Retreat was released in the UK earlier this month, following couple Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) who take a break to an isolated island in an attempt to fix the troubles of their marriage. When they rescue a washed-up man, Jack (Jamie Bell), and bring him into their home, the last thing they expected to hear about was the threat of a killer virus heading towards the island. Unable to leave their house and with nobody on the island to help them, they begin to think this violent stranger has been lying. When their situation reaches ultimate intensity, they have a decision to make: to believe the only company they have, even if he has a gun to their heads, or to make a run for it. But nothing could have prepared them for them for the ultimate and shocking truth.

Retreat is Tibbett’s first attempt at directing, yet he has successfully produced a well-crafted thriller full of suspense. Whilst a little slow-paced during the main part of the story, the twists at the end of the film magnify what had been dragged out beforehand. The conclusion, which comes as a surprise to the audience, is why this film can be deemed as a unique and outstanding take on the killer virus genre and is what sets it apart from Contagion.

The main triumph of the film is the real emotion between Murphy and Newton, who play their characters extremely well alongside each other. Without this, the film wouldn’t have worked at all. Jamie Bell also delivers a solid performance, showing real versatility in his role as he changes from an innocent stranger to a violent commander in seconds. Known primarily for his role as Billy Elliot when he was younger, this is the first time I have seen him in a film to remember him for since. Of course, he is in next month’s The Adventures of Tintin as well, or at least his voice is, so maybe this is a new start for him. From his performance in Retreat alone, I would definitely like to see more of him.

However, with only a main cast of three, Retreat comes close to being unenjoyable to watch when the third character is an extremely unlikable psychopath. The company is on the verge of getting boring, but it breaks away from this focus of three people stuck in a house together at the right time, and this is when the film gets interesting. Notably, it is only in the last half an hour that you are unable to take your eyes away, and you do find yourself screaming “JUST BLOODY SHOOT HIM!” a number of times, but the final few twists really pick the film up.

I’ve read a lot of reviews focusing on the lack of gore in this film. But why does it need gore? That’s what keeps the suspense high throughout the film. We don’t know if the virus is really out there or if it has been made up, so a clean and healthy setting makes us believe that everything is safe, whatever the outcome.

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