Directed by: #NicholasZafonte
No Retreat is a comedy-drama written by J.D. Singer and Nicholas Zafonte, the latter of whom also directs. It tells the story of two friends from college who are reuniting for a weekend retreat to relax and write together. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the weekend won't be so productive as old issues between the pair begin to arise.
It's an effective slice-of-life setup, the premise providing a blank canvas for the writers to paint intricate characters with a complicated relationship on. From the first shot in which the two characters, Sean and Emily, wordlessly enter the house, it is apparent that there's an air of tension between them. As the first evening progresses and dialogue is introduced, this can still be felt through the jovial interactions between them. While they laugh together, lines are slipped in that denote a bitterness to Sean, a past that hasn't been let go of and a tenderness to Emily, a pitying eagerness to maintain the friendship. It's fantastic script-writing that puts faith in the audience to unpack the complicated relationship without having to have anything spelled out.
On the second day, they attempt to hash out some ideas. However, with Sean refusing to work proactively, they go on a walk together where they philosophically muse on creativity and the different kinds of artists in the world: those who do and those who are too afraid to. It's brilliant subtext that organically inspires analysis of the characters on-screen, once again with subtlety. It's when they get back to the house, however, that the tensions between them rise to the surface. After the first half of the movie, in which their relationship is slowly observed, it's here that it is finally dissected. An explosive argument between them allows the characters to put aside niceties and spill their true feelings; it proves for utterly compelling viewing that feels as cathartic for the audience as it does for Emily and Sean.
Moreover, No Retreat is really quite funny. From Sean's dry humour to Emily's quick-witted responses, the comedy plays out as a sort of game of tennis in which the ball's constantly in play until it's not and that's only because they're not playing anymore. While it isn't an out-and-out comedy, trading a lot of its laughs for reflection and contemplation, when the jokes are wheeled out they land. This is helped tremendously by the performers, Samantha Soule and Josh Tyson. Their delivery is brilliant, helped by each others' ability to sell their counterpart's jokes with convincing laughter, and when the film isn't aiming for laughs, their relationship feels real. There's an admirable display of naturalistic acting from both of them and the aforementioned argument is delivered with utter believability.
The film also looks incredible. Utilising one location and two performers, Zafonte manages to hide the modest budget while not leaving aside visual flourishes. Beautiful shots of sun-kissed forestry and sparingly used tracking shots that are pulled out when creating a feeling of momentum in the more kinetic scenes make for a dynamic feeling movie that never shows its budget.
No Retreat is fantastic. It's affecting, it's confident, it's beautifully written, it's wonderfully shot and it's sold by two central performances that couldn't be substituted. It's the sort of empathetic film that shows the worst in its characters but never judges them; instead it invites you to see a little of yourself in them. Singer and Zafonte have created a movie that you don't just see; you feel. It provides a weekend away with two brilliantly realised characters - one that you'll fondly look back on.