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Retreat (2011)

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RetreatStarring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell, and Thandie Newton

Directed by Carl Tibbetts


Retreat is an impressive effort for first time director Carl Tibbetts. How a young guy with no IMDB presence managed to score Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), and Thandie Newton (2012) to star in his tensely scripted, claustrophobic thriller about viral infection and societal collapse is anyone’s guess, but Tibbetts generally makes good use of his stellar cast and superb location and steers his directorial debut handily enough until the very end, where he smashes his film upon the rocks of an illogical, emotionally conflicted ending.

Retreat tells the familiar tale of a young couple on holiday trying to mend their broken marriage. In not particularly original fashion we learn that Kate (Newton) has recently miscarried and feels resentful toward her husband, Martin (Murphy). They have decided to return to a remote island to stay in Fairweather Cottage, where they had vacationed in earlier, happier times. Ample time is spent setting up their discordant marriage and lack of physical intimacy. Martin jogs along the coast, puffing his inhaler every so often, while Kate stays at home writing sappy bloggish memoirs about her disintegrating life. Not much sympathy is elicited in these scenes, which had me thinking more about how spoiled and ungrateful these two yuppy scumbags were than how much I wanted them to kiss and make up.

Fantasia 2011 ReviewBut into every life a little rain must fall, and for these two living under dark clouds of their own devising, a real storm is about to come. Their generator fails, and calls to the cottage’s landlord on the mainland go unanswered. Just when they start to worry, a bloody man dressed in army fatigues passes out in their front yard. They take him in, and upon his waking their situation takes a turn for the worse. Jack (Bell) is his name, and he says an airborne viral plague has been unleashed and is heading their way. He jumps into action, sealing windows and smashing furniture to create barricades, locking them all in together.

Retreat is at its best in the middle where the three-way relationship dynamics are investigated in their various permutations. Traditional town and country themes are explored as the lowlife Jack bosses the suburbanites around, causing Martin to seek alpha male approval and Kate to question her loyalty to her lame duck husband. In these moments you wonder about all the ways the film might play out. Is Jack’s story a hoax? Do Jack and Kate know each other? Maybe Martin is Jack’s gay lover and this is all an elaborate plan to murder Kate? While the ambiguity of their situation is kept intact for as long as possible, eventually the truth must come out, and because of how long the big twist takes to be fully explained, most of the drama is leeched out of it. For all the interesting ideas Retreat plays with, in the end it is the film itself that retreats into cliche, hastily revising character motivations, eradicating believability, and even to a certain degree likability of the film as a whole.

That said, the terrible ending is just one part of an otherwise pretty well made film. The rest of the picture has a lot to recommend it, from the outstanding performances, the blustery island location, the driving suspenseful score and the genuine tension and intrigue created right up until the final reel. Carl Tibbetts has proven he knows how to direct actors and write dialogue, but next time he may want to leave the plot to someone else.

3 out of 5

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Review – A Haunting Mixture of Psychological Turmoil and Brutal Supernatural Horror

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Starring Brittany Anne Woodford, Jenny Curtis, Kanin Guntzelman, Brendan McGowan, Jake White

Directed by James S. Brown

We all like to think of ourselves as being surrounded by friends, but let’s face it, if we were to ever truly hit hard times, there are probably very few, if any, people we could truly rely on. So on some level, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film we can all relate too, as it deals with this very issue.

Stephanie is an emotionally unstable young woman who strangles her boyfriend to death after he insults and breaks up with her. She calls her friends to help her dispose the body out in the Joshua Tree National Part area, and instead of reporting her to the police, they reluctantly comply. As their car breaks down, the four friends find themselves alone at night in the Californian wilderness with the rotting corpse in need of disposal. Given their dire circumstances, they begin to become more and more aggressive towards each other, and this was where the film was really at its best. I was on the edge of my seat, wondering how far the limits of their friendship could be stretched, and who would be the first to crack and turn on the others.

Anyway, their body disposal endeavor soon proves to be a mistake, as Stephanie’s ex rises from the grave as vengeful zombie demon thing with claws as long as knives. I’ll admit, I first I thought Friends Don’t Let Friends was going to be a movie purely about the limits of trust, so I was pretty surprised when the supernatural elements came into play. And when they did, the trust and friendship elements of the plot were somewhat downplayed in favor of a more traditional horror approach, and while it was still entertaining, I still would have preferred for the film not to have strayed from its initial path. At least the ending came as a shocker. I won’t go into spoilers, but let’s just say the even the most attentive viewers probably won’t see it coming.

As you can probably guess from a psychologically-driven film of this kind, the performances were top notch, with Brittany Anne Woodford being on particularly top form as the manipulative and unstable Stephanie, a character who revels in the revels in the power she felt when ending another human life.

With its mixture of psychological turmoil and brutal supernatural horror, Friends Don’t Let Friends is a film I would certainly recommend, but keep in mind that it may make you think twice when confiding in people who you think of as being your friends.

8 out of 10.

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Coulrophobia Review – One of the Most Entertaining Killer Clown Films in Quite Some Time

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Starring Pete Bennett, Warren Speed, Daniella D’Ville, Roxy Bordeaux

Directed by Warren Speed


The word ‘Coulrophobia’ refers to the fear of clowns, and if you happen to suffer from it, you might want to avoid director Warren Speed’s film of the same name. However, if you can stand the sight of clowns with gaping wounds in their manly parts, then you’re in for one heck of a fun time.

An all-female hockey team get lost deep in the Scottish woods on their way to a match (don’t ask), and are captured and forced to participate in a series of horrific games by the Grock family of clowns. All of the members of said family are absolutely fucking insane, but the one that really stood out was Twitch (Pete Bennett), who wears jester cloths and it said to have a short attention span. He longs to be a violin player and wishes he could blend in with normal society like the other members of his family. And you almost feel sorry for him, even though he’s a mad killer with bells on his head.

Director Warren Speed also appeared as Milo, a grunting mute who had his tongue cut out when he was a boy. As mentioned above, we see a close-up shot of a open wound in his penis being stitched up, which is not an image that will be leaving your mind anytime soon. Speed is clearly fearless when it comes to his art.

Inter-spliced with all the torture and mayhem, we also see documentary-style telling the sad history of the family involved, and this was where the film unfortunately faltered, because these scenes seemed out of place and just didn’t flow with the rest of the plot.

Ultimately, however, Coulrophobia almost seems like a film Rob Zombie might have made before he lost his way and started churning out trash like 31. Comparisons to House of 1000 Corpses are inevitable, and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. This is one of the most entertaining killer clown films in quite some time.

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User Rating 2.94 (17 votes)
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The Gatehouse Review – What Is Found in the Woods Should Be Left in the Woods

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Starring Scarlett Rayner, Simeon Willis, Linal Haft

Directed by Martin Gooch


Now while no one will sneeze at the prospect of bringing up a bit of a rebellious child alone, it’s those damned kids that like to tempt fate by pissing off creatures in the woods…oh kids, they do the funniest things, don’t they?

In Martin Gooch’s moderately spooky presentation, The Gatehouse, a struggling writer named Jack (Willis) finds himself behind the 8-ball following the tragic drowning death of his beloved wife, and if that isn’t enough to torque your drawers, his young daughter, Eternity (Rayner) is becoming quite the salty soul herself. Unfortunately the little one has been finding herself bullied at school, and her recourse of sorts is to simply toss attitude around as if it was pleasantly acceptable. Her pastime has become lonely wanderings in the deep woods, digging for hopeful treasures…and we all know what problems reside in the woods, don’t we, horror fans? Well, Eternity’s father is attempting to re-start his writing career with a frightening backstory – taking the reigns on a novel that was abruptly ended when the author committed suicide, and supposedly the tome is quite the dark piece of literature.

Eternity’s never-ending quest for fortune and glory in the forest leads her to a most interesting (and ultimately) dangerous discovery (don’t sweat it – I won’t spill it for you). Bottom line here is this: the little girl has taken possession of something that should have been left in the friggin’ woods, and now someone (or something) wants it back PRONTO. What follows is a lackluster series of “spooky” events, and far be it from me to say, I’ve seen creepier stuff watching the evening news. Gooch then tries to bombard the audience with a plethora of instances and swerving plot direction – it’s fun at the beginning but can grow a bit tiresome over a duration.

Performance-wise, both Rayner and Willis play the perfect combination of mentally-shot dad and determined-to-be-independent daughter – their scenes are ripe with subtle contempt, and the right amount of indecision. Overall, the film is best suited for those fans of fantasy/fable-like horror, and while it might not scare the pants off of you, it definitely will give us all another reason to stay the hell out of the woods once and for all.

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Summary

Children in a forest-setting don’t always add up to cutesy-pie encounters with furry creatures – this one’s got a few scares to keep fans of coppice-horror appeased.

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User Rating 3.56 (18 votes)
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