‘Retreat’ takes a minimalist approach to the virus film by isolating it on a secluded island. It’s available on DVD Feb. 21.
The virus outbreak continues to be a popular film subject because it reflects our real fear of an uncontrollable infectious disease spreading through the population. Recent memory can recall threats of anthrax and bird flu, while AIDS continues to kill thousands annually. Rather than present the mass scale devastation that has been depicted on screen so often, Retreat pares it down to a microcosm.
After experiencing a personal tragedy, Kate (Thandie Newton) and Martin (Cillian Murphy) escape to a secluded island that holds fond memories in hopes of repairing their relationship. However, before they really get a chance to settle in, an injured stranger (Jamie Bell) is found at their door. He tells them a virus has swept across Europe, wiping out the population and trapping them together on the island. With no ability to confirm or refute his claims, the couple must decide to act on or ignore their suspicions.
Neither Murphy nor Newton is inexperienced with this apocalypse genre; this isn’t even his first virus movie. But this is an isolation that tested their abilities as actors because there was no distraction from any of their shortcomings. Luckily these two accomplished performers portray fittingly stern characters that feel awkward with each other but also relentlessly caring. Bell's character is quite simple on paper, but he brings a depth to it that enriches what could have been a flat and violent narrative.
There is a warranted paranoia that emerges with the arrival of the stranger – is he telling the truth or just trying to control the situation? There is evidence, or at least inconsistencies, to support both notions, except only one is true; but denying either could get them killed. The stranger forces the couple to band together, changing their opening dynamic and forcing them to present a united front even though their ideas of how to precede often differ.
The directorial debut is not overly ambitious, though it’s also relatively safe in its stylistic and technical choices. Carl Tibbetts does not take any risks, allowing the narrative to boringly coast at some moments rather than take the opportunity to do something interesting with the actors or film.
The reality of their situation is not revealed until the end, but the concluding scene is somewhat anti-climactic. On the plus side, it does confirm earlier revelations and answer any questions that may have still existed.
Director:Carl TibbettsStarring:Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell and Thandie NewtonSpecial features include: a making-of featurette and photo gallery. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)