"'Retreat, retreat, retreat', cries my heart!" Man, I'm old, so maybe I should have bit my tongue and promoted 21st century music by referencing the song by The Rakes, because it's release is closer to this film's, and it's also startlingly British. Mind you, for post-punk revival, it's still about as cheesy as the 1950s pop song I ended up referencing, and make no mistake, folks, this isn't quite as lighthearted as "Couples Retreat", which you shouldn't mistake it for, even though it can't be too much less exciting than this film. Well, I mean, I don't know how exciting you can make a thriller that actually proposes retreating in its title, although I might just be saying that either because you can't look at that title and help thinking of the French, who you can't think of without thinking about dull films. It doesn't exactly help that "28 Weeks Later" stood to be more exciting, leaving you with a little concern that this, "28 Months Later", or whatever, isn't bound to be too thrilling, especially considering that it doesn't even involve a zombie-esque virus pandemic. Jokes aside, looking at "Peacock" as the sister... or brother dressed as a sister film to "Breakfast on Pluto", - another film about transvestism - a now this film about a few people trying to escape from a viral pandemic, it would appear that the early 2010s are seeing Cillian Murphy looking to, if you will, "retreat" to some of his classic roles. I guess I'm okay with that, because roles like these usually beget quality performances from Murphy, as well as pretty decent films, but this is more "28 Weeks Later" than "28 Days Later", what with its setbacks.
Really, I've joked and joked about how this is yet another pandemic film featuring Cillian Murphy, but this doesn't really follow the formula of something like "28 Days Later", instead taking from formulas of island thriller by the fistful, being almost too conventional to keep a degree of unpredictability alive, and therefore at least familiar to the point of being kind of bland. To make matters worse, some of the tropes taken are heavy-handed dramatics, which are limited in quantity, and even severity, but nonetheless present, defusing much of the genuineness of this thriller which ostensibly thrives on the believability of its characters' situations. Quite frankly, this film isn't exactly doing a great job in a lot of ways as a character study, because the film's histrionics could perhaps be easier to buy into if Janice Hallett's and Carl Tibbetts' script put more work into selling the characters, whose lack of immediate development and somewhat sparse gradual exposition can be gotten used to after a while, but never prevent a sense of distance between you and the characters. As if that's not aggravating enough, the film still finds some time to drag its feet with excess that, while at its worst during a meandering, yet still underdeveloped first act, constantly struggles to give this narrative something to work with, until it begins to all but lose focus. Well, I don't reckon you ever lose your grip on what this film is trying to say, it's just that the film is aimless in its deliverance of such a message, combining underdevelopment, dragging and a hint of a sense of predictability in order to meander in a fashion that is more reflective of the lack of material in this story, rather than the wealth of it. Running exactly a mere 90 minutes, this film still drags its feet, and what that tells you is that this story was never to have much depth to flesh out, being tense in its minimalism, but minimalist nevertheless, with only so much potential that is still done something of an injustice by familiar, histrionic, undercooked and draggy storytelling. When it's all said and done, the film is kind of forgettable, yet it doesn't squander your time, having its share of misguided elements, and just as many sharp elements.
Atmosphere plays a big part in driving this thriller, and Ilan Eshkeri's score plays a big part in driving the atmosphere, being very prominent throughout the film, and carrying a bite to its more subdued elements that sustains musical and atmospheric intrigue, with slightly more colorful compositions whose gloomy beauty haunts. The visual style of the film also immerses, as Chris Seager's tasteful, sparse lighting plays are both handsome and complimentary to a sense of isolation, but not without the help of bleak island locations that are broad enough to give you a feel for the environment, but tight enough to further reinforce a sense of claustrophobia, which, as you can imagine, drives a film of this type. Minimalist and not even unique as a meditation more on the intensity on shaky human interactions in an isolated setting, rather than the dramatic depth, this story doesn't carry much potential, which still finds itself betrayed at times, and yet, intrigue stands pretty firm in this film's concept, and when it comes to the execution, Janice Hallett and Carl Tibbetts pen a script with some memorable, if underdeveloped characters and conflicts, with some nifty moments of sudden inspiration. The film is formulaic, but I don't know if it's technically all that predictable, for there is a solid twist that is well worth waiting for through all the meandering, a challenge settled by some genuine inspiration to the interpretation of an interesting idea. The direction also deserves recognition for crafting the most effective moments of this film, if not the fair degree of entertainment value that stands throughout the final product, feeding off of Tibbetts' directorial plays on chilling score work and disconcerting visuals that establish consistent tension, highlighted by some weighty intensity, kind of like the performances. Intensity is just as well-encompassed within the three central performance that, of course, receive about as much attention as anything in this character-driven thriller, and do about as much as anything in bringing this thriller to life, relatively speaking that is, for although dramatic material is limited, the fear and harshness projected by Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell sell the gradual sense of dehumanization which this study on dangerous human interactions in a claustrophobic setting ought to have. The storytelling doesn't do as consistently solid of a job at projecting the depths of this thriller as the performers, but when heights in storytelling inspiration meet the consistent inspiration in acting, there's enough drive in this thriller to compel and hold your investment, even if it doesn't hold your memory as firmly.
When it is, in fact, time to retreat, a lack of originality and an inconsistency in uniqueness, expository depth and pacing to the telling of a minimalist story make for a somewhat forgettable thriller, kept alive by chilling scoring and visuals, heights in writing and direction, and strong performances by Cillian Murphy, Thandie Newton and Jamie Bell, until Carl Tibbetts' "Retreat" is left standing as a decent and often pretty effective, if underwhelming bottle thriller.
2.5/5 - Fair