Retreat DVD review

Three strong performances distinguish this low-budget debut thriller from director Carl Tibbetts. Here’s Chris’ review of Retreat...

Three great performers and one remote cottage are the only ingredients debut writer director Carl Tibbetts needed to create Retreat, and to his credit, he blended them well.

Adding a pinch of sumptuous cinematography and a dash of nifty direction, he has managed to pull off a raw, powerful and deeply involving character study as well as a finely tuned outbreak saga.Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton) decide to pack their bags and head off to an isolated resort to escape a personal tragedy which is jeopardising their already unstable marriage. Not long after they arrive, the pair spot a blood-soaked man stumbling to shore and collapsing into a lifeless heap.

The man is Jack (Jamie Bell), an army officer who has escaped from Europe and tells the couple about a devastating virus which is making its way to British shores. The virus is airborne, extremely contagious and all accounts recorded have led to fatalities. The trio must work together to stay safe from infection, but being alone, trapped and confused soon takes its toll, leaving only hysteria and chaos.

Like most debut screenplays, Retreat does suffer from the odd plot snag and could have done with a little tweaking, but these are minor quibbles for a film that is greatly ambitious and proves that budget is often the least important part of filmmaking. This picture is fundamentally a performer’s piece; its claustrophobic setting and narrative allows the small group of actors to ignite the screen, presenting a cavalcade of emotions and heft, and this is the film’s greatest success.

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The virus plot provides some expected and unexpected twists which keep viewers on their toes, but it’s the meaty and engrossing dynamic between a distressed couple and a stranger, who is able to alienate them just with his presence, that keeps the film engaging. Throughout, we see shifts in their behaviour, and it is apparent that both Martin and Kate connect with Jack in a different way, whether it be emotional or physical.

Jack’s demanding presence in Fairweather Cottage makes him undeniable yet supremely questionable. Is he really an army soldier? Is the virus he preaches about a reality? Is he truly concerned for everyone’s safety or is he merely manipulating an already tense and taut situation? These questions reoccur frequently, and Bell paints a rich and layered character in a gripping performance.

Not only does Bell dominate the couple and their solitary space, he demands and owns the screen in every moment the camera graces his presence. Murphy is also great; he looks like he is getting on and unaware of the relationship barriers Kate is tossing in front of him, but he is constantly stumbling through them and dusting himself off after every fall – it’s truly a skill to tell so much from a stony face. His dialogue delivery is strong, too, and his action-hero moments are believable.

Newton is sublime as the broken and frustrated Kate, who offers audiences mixed signals through her devouring sorrow. At some points, her male co-stars overshadow her, but this is only for brief segments. In fact, during Retreat’s third act, Newton is brutal and powerful with her presence as she discovers the truth.

The film’s closing 15 minutes are some of the most haunting and distressing I’ve experienced this year. They are not particularly violent, but they reflect perfectly the shattered atmosphere that has been surrounding the trio from the start. Expect fireworks – really sad and broken fireworks.

At 86 minutes, Retreat is a fast-paced, white-knuckle experience trapped within four walls and a thatched roof – it grasps audiences in a chokehold and refuses to let go.

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The DVD offers limited extras, but this being a low-budget affair, an abundance of special features isn’t particularly required.The disc sports a theatrical trailer which is the kiss-of-death and should not be watched until after you’ve viewed the main feature – it pretty much reveals 75 per cent of the film, and viewing it will seriously taint the experience. It also has a photo gallery which is fairly irrelevant and seems to last forever.

The best feature is its Making of documentary, with interviews with Tibbetts, Newton, Murphy and Bell. It’s a rather insightful little feature which lasts just over 15 minutes, and the only extra really worth bothering with. Tibbetts explains how he was greatly influenced by the films of Roman Polanski, and that is clearly evident in Retreat. Elsewhere, Bell says he was attracted to the stage-like style of the film.

The extras may be weak, but the feature is more than strong enough to warrant a purchase. I highly recommend it.


4 stars

You can rent or buy Retreat at

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4 out of 5