A part of me wishes I never learned that the role Jamie Bell plays in "Retreat" was intended for David Tennant, because the idea alone teases the possibility that with one different casting choice, the film could have transcended being a frustrating, near waste of time, into an admirable, manic and tense thriller. Instead, "Retreat" remains three distinct film tones mashed into one poorly paced but technically sound thriller. Working with a primary cast of only three, "Retreat" begins as a slow burn, introducing viewers to Martin (Cillian Murphy) and Kate (Thandie Newton), a husband and wife who have returned to an isolated island cottage years after their first visit, the only catch being, while the love between the two is still there, it's in danger of being smothered by some unspoken issues.
However, just before the film can tackle those issues, everything shifts via the introduction of Pvt. Jack Coleman (Bell) a badly wounded soldier who brings tales of widespread doom on the mainland and abroad: a global pandemic is in full effect. It's at this crucial point that "Retreat" chooses to take a big step forward and a big step back, sending the hearts of viewers racing with limited information about what's really happening and an overwhelming sense of dread, before quickly pushing Bell into the role of psychological tormenter as his focus becomes less on keeping himself and the couple quarantined from the outside world and more interested in interjecting himself into their problems as a tool to further manipulate an already damaged marriage for reasons unknown.
While Bell is by and large not to blame for the unfair way his character is utilized in the film, namely the way Coleman plays his hand far too early in the story, the actor lacks the raw energy to establish the character as a physical and more importantly mental foe, something that intended star David Tennant could easily be seen doing. To further complicate matters and at the risk of typecasting actors, Bell is no match against Murphy (who was actually second choice after Jason Isaacs) playing the straight man in a psychological thriller. The filmmaker, Carl Tibbetts seems intent on taking a plot development right to the edge of success before tearing apart every bit of tension crafted from said development. It's a frustrating pattern that continues right up until "Retreat" takes its final tonal shift and nearly degenerates into a sad clichéd heap.
It's impossible to reveal any details about the final act of "Retreat" because by the time it unfolds, the whole movie begins to feel cheapened by a race to a gimmicky, Shyamalan-esque conclusion. "Retreat" survives mostly on a technical level, it's a handsomely shot film from start to finish and when it finds its groove it's engaging, the problem is exclusively in the pacing and transitions. The cast does a thankless job of keeping things together and eliciting necessary sympathies, but when it's all done and said, "Retreat" is branded as the rare film I would refuse to ever watch again as there's no discernible value from a repeat viewing from this admirable but very flawed psychological thriller.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is for the most part above average in all categories; colors reflect the location of the film, while detail never wavers. There's some inconsistency in terms of grain/digital noise, but it's nothing distracting. No edge-enhancement or other forms of image modification are present.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is commendable given the mostly dialogue driven nature of the film, dialogue is properly balanced and never muddled. When the situation calls for the use of surrounds, they perform admirably, amping up the tension or just creating atmosphere. A French 5.1 track is also included as well as English, French, and English SDH subtitles.
The two extras are a brief "making-of" featurette that is your standard promotional style program and a photo gallery.
"Retreat" as a whole is a marginally entertaining psychological thriller, although marginally only because it runs the spectrum of near brilliance to hackneyed doldrums. The most entertaining aspect of the film are the performances from the three leads, especially given the low-key nature of Murphy's performance, Bell attempting to establish himself as a foreboding presence, and Newton's character growing in confidence as the film progresses. One viewing is well more than enough though. Rent It.