Directed by Carl Tibbetts
Written by Janice Hallett & Carl Tibbetts
Retreat might not be a perfect film, but it is a well-constructed and closely observed claustrophobic thriller that continually teases its audience to uncover the truth behind all the madness. Both psychologically frightening and maddening to the senses, Retreat is a promising debut for former visual artist and now writer-director Carl Tibbetts.
Tibbetts makes a wise decision in keeping his cast small and restricting his locale to one setting for his first independent feature-length film – allowing for a clever, compacted and well-crafted three-character piece. It would be a shame to disclose too many plot details for a film brimming with so many plot twists while working on what is essentially a simple premise, In short, Retreat is an exercise in audience manipulation. As seen in the trailer, a married couple escape from personal tragedy to a familiar island getaway. Cut off from the outside world, their attempts to rekindle their romance are interrupted when a man is washed ashore, with news of a possible epidemic that is sweeping through Europe. But the real scourge at work here is a lack of trust amongst the trio.
Unlike 28 Days Later, Retreat is light on action but heavy on dialogue, paranoia and suspense. Elevating the film above your everyday thriller is the emotional depth his characters provide. Each member of the trio strive to gain the upper hand (both physically and psychologically) , and every scene is perfect calculated to stagger our senses.
Tibbetts shows some real flair behind the camera. Clearly a gifted writer and director, he carefully twists the classic survivalist paranoia with somewhat of a home invasion scenario and adds a heap of sexual tension, suspicion, and shifting power dynamics. While the first twenty or so minutes suffers from Thandie Newton’s performance, (an actress who already proved the weak link in such genre fare as Vanishing On 7th Street), Retreat quickly pulls a 180 with the appearance of Jamie Bell. With an actor of the caliber of Bell you expect nothing less than first-class work, but Bell exceeds our expectations. He forms the movie’s backbone with a standout performance, quite possibly his best yet, channeling Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear and infusing the film with an unexpectedly hefty emotional core. Tibbets creates an unsettling world, always shifting the ground beneath both the audience and character’s feet making for a completely engrossing thriller that will have you questioning everyone and everything until the the very end.
The film was shot on location in Wales during an intensive four-week period on a small budget. The landscape is gorgeously shot, and gives the film a much-needed sullen atmosphere. Also notable is the exceptional score by frequent Matthew Vaughn collaborator Ilan Eshkeri. His music is restrained, effective, and a perfect match to both the dramatic and suspenseful moments – though a more careful mixing job would have better suited a few of the quieter scenes.
The ending has people divided, but going in a different direction would have left behind some logical mishaps and questions concerning Bell’s character arc. Regardless of a few nitpicks, Retreat is a modest thriller, and one that’s nonetheless taut and very adept.