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By David Finkelstein | July 23, 2011

Retreat has a textbook example of what a great twist ending should be. It’s smart, takes into account everything that you’ve just seen right down to the smallest detail, doesn’t feel out of place, and makes you rethink everything that’s happened. When it arrives you don’t think “WHAT???” but “Oh yeah, of course!”

I liked it very much.


Did we have to slog through such a terribly familiar story to get there? Look, don’t get me wrong. Retreat is well made and well acted and well directed. It’s visually good to look at. It’s not horrible or anything. It’s just… How shall I put this? It’s just that I’m bored out of my mind with films that trap a bunch of people in a claustrophobic space and then make them spend most of their time bitching and griping at each other. It wasn’t all that great when Night of the Living Dead did it, and it hasn’t improved in the last 43 years. If I cared about the personal problems that people have with each other I’d watch reality TV shows. I don’t. I’m happy that way.

Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton play a husband and wife trying to re-spark their failing relationship by going off to a remote island retreat to spend some time alone together. They’re literally the only two people there until their attempt at reconnection is interrupted by an unexpected visitor, who comes in the form of a bloodied and battered soldier that bursts into their house. The man brings bad news. There’s a new strain of flu on the mainland that’s 100% fatal, airborne and spreading rapidly. If they don’t lock themselves in the house and seal off all the windows and doors with plastic they will catch it and die. Not to mention that there is a very good chance that infected, but not yet deathly ill, people may come on the island seeking shelter and spread the disease to them. There’s also something else that’s troubling about the man. He’s armed, he’s combat trained, and he seems to have completely lost his mind.

Deadly viruses, crazed military people, Cillian Murphy, England… Anyone else getting the feeling that we’ve all seen this before somewhere? I know I am.

So, in recap, we have a familiar story about a group of people trapped together, two are an emotional powder keg waiting to explode, the other is potentially batshit crazy. Then we have a cast looks like they were picked for their resemblance to the cast of 28 Days Later. Cillian Murphy obviously looks like Cillian Murphy, but Thandie Newton looks a little bit like Naomi Harris and Jamie Bell looks a little bit like Christopher Eccleston. So not only do you have a movie whose storyline is familiar, the cast is also familiar-ish when seen from 50 feet away.

Granted, it’s all done with a lot of style, so no complaints there. In fact, if you’ve never seen a movie where a couple of people are trapped together and slowly the veneer of civility is removed, go for it. For someone like me though, who’s seen a few films in their time, it feels like one long setup for a twist ending. Where’s the fun in that?

I think the really big problem is that the married couple isn’t all that likeable. They spend almost all their time before the crazy military guy arrives NOT TALKING TO EACH OTHER. Am I supposed to root for them? Newton plays the wife as cold and whiny, and Murphy plays the husband as clueless and timid. Oh yeah… just keep making me want to watch this goddamn thing why don’t you! They’re great actors, but they’re playing a******s. Even Jamie Bell, as nuts as his character is, seems more likeable at times.

In the end, Retreat feels like it should have been called “Retread.” It’s not a bad film. I didn’t hate it. I don’t have anything against it. I want to assure everybody of that. So, if you see the trailer and think you’ll like it, then you should ignore me and go check it out, because it’s fine really. Just don’t expect to be blown away by mind-numbing originality.

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