The beautiful locations, intriguing plot and skilled cast of Carl Tibbetts’ first feature Retreat (2011) make it a largely successful attempt to mark his place in the film world. Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton), a young married couple, rent an old house on an island somewhere off the British coast.
They are not only trying to escape from the noise of their big home town, somewhere in England, but primarily from their marital problems caused by the death of their first baby. Boat is the only transportation between the island and the mainland and radio is the only way to communicate with society – the very radio that soon breaks, but complete lack of contact with the outside world doesn’t worry Kate and Martin, at first.
That changes when a mysterious stranger enters their lives. A young man in an army uniform (Jamie Bell), wounded and bleeding, collapses while running from the shore to the couple’s house and only regains consciousness when Kate and Martin take him inside. He claims to be the bearer of bad news – apparently a highly contagious, deadly virus has broken out on the mainland. Seemingly, the only way to ensure their survival is to barricade the house and kill anyone seeking refuge on the island, as they may well be a potential carrier of the virus.
The tale sounds unbelievable but, unable to verify the news, Kate and Martin find themselves in a situation where they have to choose between a lock-in or possible exposure to the killer disease. What to do and how to find out the truth – answering these questions will place the leading characters in real danger.
The plot – troubled couple looking for peace and solitude, stranger disturbing their retreat – is not entirely original. It resembles various film scenarios, mainly Dead Calm (1989). Jamie Bell’s character seems almost to be based on Dead Calm‘s Hughie, played by Billy Zane – with a similar mix of charming, erratic and aggressive behavior. However, the concept is intriguing and sufficiently claustrophobic.
Retreat‘s success depends on the cast and, fortunately for Tibbetts, all the actors do a great job. In fact, the role of the charismatic, secretive Jack is Jamie Bell’s best and most memorable creation since Billy Elliot, despite being based on a character(s) from different movie(s). He carries the weight of the movie and he carries it well – despite its low budget, the film makes the best of what it can offer.