RiverRun 2018: Retreat

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Dir. Tom Nicoll, UK, 2017, 82 min

How do you know if what you experience is in your head or not?

Twentysomething Kaitlin Cato, played by Kim Allan, travels with her boyfriend and their pet dog to a large, isolated Scottish estate after a run-in with her ex-military brother (Jason Harvey). Her mother (Jane Paul-Gets) informs her he has died after using substances and falling in the shower. Plagued by a guilty conscience, Kaitlin is spooked by sightings of someone on the property and a strange symbol that keeps appearing in various places, including the dog’s fur.

Weaving together typical conventions of the horror genre, Retreat uses discordant music and close-up camera angles to mount tension, and askew angles to hint at the main character’s unstable mental state. The film also gives a nod to the classic ghost story The Turn of the Screw.

But it’s the realness of the story that gets us. The seemingly well-meaning boyfriend downplays Kaitlin’s concerns and becomes increasingly smothering. A healthy dose of flashbacks builds to the psychologically complex ending.

Although viewers will have to bend their ears to understand the Scottish accent — and will never forget the boyfriend’s lilting way of saying Kaitlin’s name, over and over — the film artfully explores the edge between madness and gaslighting.

Retreat screens on Saturday at 7 p.m. at A/perture 1 and on April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at SECCA. Director Tom Nicoll attends both screenings.

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