With FrightFest coming, we get a little scary as this week’s VodFather featuring exposed eyeballs and airborne diseases for two very different horror-thrillers.
The nature of what gets released widely in cinemas and what gets quickly released to home markets is an often-times bewildering one to me, and this is something that springs to mind with Retreat. This is a film with a solid cast and a cinematic look yet was virtually bypassed cinemas all together.
The simple story of a couple (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton) who go to a remote house on a make-or-break their relationship trip. They are soon interrupted by a random man (Jamie Bell) who insists they board the home up so as to not let a viral infection which has swept the mainland take them also.
A cool little premise for a film and one which first time feature writer/director Carl Tibbets does a good job in stretching out to a feature runtime, with twists and turns mixing in with more character-based drama which holds up well. I find it hard to stomach Thandie Newton at the best of times, but her character here is supposed to rub you up the wrong way so worked well for me, though maybe on a more inherent scale than for others.
Cillian Murphy also gives good everyman but it’s Jamie Bell who is the star of the show here, with a role which makes him feel a hell of a lot more imposing than his physicality would initially suggest. His alpha-male exchanges with Murphy’s character really show you the order of things, though by the end of the film, you see things in a very different way. This is one of those films you could get a fair bit of joy out of watching a second time.
It’s not a world-changer, but as far as essentially DTV horror-thriller stuff goes, it’s definitely superior.
Ah “torture porn”, remember when that stuff was all the rage? Saw, Captivity, countless films which mined the same thing in an attempt to get people to exclaim “HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT?” (something which was used as a tagline in a red-band trailer for the original Saw). It pretty much died a death and was overtaken by the found footage movie, but there are still some examples of this odd little sub-genre which survive in the memory. Eli Roth’s second feature, Hostel, is one of them.
Not everyone agrees of course, but for my money horror is only second to comedy in a genre which is really down to subjectivity, and for this writer, Hostel remains a solid, agreeably intense, ride. What begins almost as a Eurotrip-esque romp quickly becomes something else as Americans abroad find themselves out of their depth when they are taken and used as meat puppets for rich folks to kill at a high price.
Eli Roth’s fratboy-ish nature is apparent here, though it does feel like he’s evolved from his Cabin Fever days with less of a sense of lowest common-denominator humour, certainly no “PANCAKES!!!”. Instead he exhibits a sense of humour and relishes in the darkness of it all; in particular one eyeball moment gets the laughs. This is more a relieving of extreme tension than any genuine comedy and indeed there is blood galore, but I wouldn’t say the film revels in it, unlike Hostel : Part 2 which is certainly guilty of at times. Hostel isn’t exactly trying to make you think but at the same time, it’s not the pure exercise in pushing extremes which some of the Saw franchise is guilty of (the operation sequence in Saw 3 comes to mind immediately).
It’s not for everyone, but for those who dismissed Hostel as “just another one of those torture porn films” may want to give it another look.