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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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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual

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Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.

Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!

Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger

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Starring Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan

Written and directed by Derek Nguyen


Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.

Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.

Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.

Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.

Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.

The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.

Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.

The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.

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Summary

Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.

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Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse

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Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins

Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson

Directed by Peter Howitt


Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.

Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.

While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.

In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.

  • Scorched Earth
3.0

Summary

Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.

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