With a killer cast that includes Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later/Batman Begins), Thandie Newton (Chronicles of Riddick/Crash), and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot/Man on a Ledge), as well as a nifty concept that blends post-apocalyptic sci-fi elements with traditional Hitchcockian themes, the new British thriller, Retreat, has so much going for it that it can’t be anything less than a rousing success, right? Turns out…well…not so much.
After the still-birth of their first child, Kate (Newton) and Martin (Murphy) seek solace at a secluded island home off the coast of Scotland where they once spent a romantic holiday years earlier. The couple hopes to find their bearings and rekindle lost passions, but, almost immediately upon arriving, realize that this vacation will be anything but relaxing. After a day of rough seas and fierce winds wreak havoc with the temperamental generator and an ancient C.B. radio that serves as their only connection to the outside world (foreshadowing!), a severe storm disables them both altogether, leaving Kate and Martin in the dark, and completely cut off from the mainland. It isn’t long before the bickering couple is at each other’s throats, playing the blame game, and, generally, going through all of the motions we’ve seen myriad estranged couples go through in similarly themed films (Don’t Look Now, The Long Weekend, Dead Calm, Straw Dogs, etc).
After the storm, an injured and unconscious young soldier (Bell) washes ashore, and Martin and Kate take him back to the cottage to patch him up. The man – who identifies himself as Private Jack Corman – regains consciousness, and explains that, in the days since Martin and Kate have been cut off from the mainland, a deadly contagion has spread throughout the world, and that their only hope of survival is to seal up the cottage to keep the airborne virus out. Kate thinks this is nothing more than the rantings of a madman, but Jack proves persuasive to Martin, and, with no way to prove or disprove the man’s story, Martin thinks it’s in their best interests to go along with Jack’s plans. That is, of course, until an increasingly unhinged Jack starts exhibiting behavior that makes their fight for survival against an invisible foe look more like a full-on hostage situation at the hands of a thoroughly deranged young man.
Retreat is a film that recycles a lot of ideas. While it puts a few of said ideas to novel use, much of what we see here is fairly derivative of other films, making the first couple of acts something of a chore to sit through for those who’ve seen the aforementioned films. We’ve seen the “disintegrating couple brought together/torn apart by adversity” story dozens of times, so, for it to succeed, Retreat really needed to inject something truly original into the premise. And it does.
The problem is, it waits until the film’s final act to do so, and, by that point, I’m afraid, many viewers (mistakenly assuming they’ve already figured out the ending) will have tuned out completely, missing what is actually a really satisfying and surprising payoff. Of course, to get there, one must wade through nearly 80 minutes of bickering, backbiting, and repetitive escape attempts obviously meant to ramp up the suspense quotient, but, in reality, only serving to make me want to hit the fast-forward button.
Retreat comes to DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures, and features a solid 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that boasts impressive detail, muted-yet-accurate colors, and deep blacks. There’s a hint of noise throughout, and occasional edge fringing, but, otherwise, the transfer is actually quite good for a standard definition release. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack offers a well-balanced and potent mix, with nicely implemented surround effects and crisp, up-front dialogue.
Extras are limited to an EPK-style behind-the-scenes featurette, Retreat: The Making Of, as well as a photo gallery, and trailers for other Sony releases. The featurette is a fairly beefy piece that runs around 20 minutes and offers interviews with cast and crew, as well as scenes from the film.
While it’s not a bad movie, Retreat certainly doesn’t live up to its potential, especially given its impressive cast. The performances are fine (especially Bell, who really shines here in the role of the mercurial Jack), and first-time director, Carl Tibbets, shows he’s certainly got an eye for the genre, but, sadly, the script suffers from a dearth of original ideas, and, by the time Retreat finally finds an identity of its own, the film is more than a third over.