Karen (Esther Hall) and Duncan (Dominic Coleman) are having problems with their marriage and decide to have a weekend away together to try and sort things out. They opt to stay in Karen’s friend’s huge beautiful house in a picturesque part of Cornwall. At the same time brothers Kevin (Simon Harvey) and Gary (Dean Nolan) need to make some quick cash and decide to rob a posh house with a safe full of goodies. However, the house turns out to be the same one Karen and Duncan have retreated to and they are soon held hostage by the brothers. As the weekend draws on tensions mount, secrets are revealed and body parts are lost.
While this could have been a very scary horror film Brett Harvey decided to inject it with comedy as well resulting in a mix of comedy and horror that works perfectly. There are plenty of darkly humorous moments but still a few edge of your seat moments and some very gory bits. The characters are extremely well written with a beautiful childhood backstory opening the film and introducing us to the characters of Kevin and Gary. The actors all do a great job of making their characters interesting and likeable, or unlikeable in the case of Duncan, but the star of the film is undoubtedly Dudley Sutton, as Paulie the guy responsible for getting the house ready for the guests, who has some great physical comedy moments that are very memorable.
The film successfully builds to a strong ending and feels just the right length. The house is carefully chosen as the singular location and horror conventions are used knowingly to amusing effect. This really is an actor’s piece but Brett Harvey does show promising talent as both a writer and director. The strong cast really carry the film. Esther Hall plays a great lead role and her emotional journey is one we embark on too.
There are a few Cornish jokes and nods to the lifestyle which may be lost on some audiences but overall it is an accessible and enjoyable film. There is definitely an air of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s kind of humour in there and visually it is an accomplished piece although, apart from the beginning sequence, no overly distinctive style is achieved. However, Weekend Retreat is a strong debut feature film that should appeal to a wide audience and is thoroughly entertaining throughout.
Weekend Retreat is writer and director Brett Harvey’s first feature, for the writing process he made a list of rules for the film in order to narrow down the options and wrote the first draft in 7 days. He applied for Arts Council funding (Feast) and received £15,000 to make the film. More money was acquired from the University College Falmouth whose students were involved in the making of the film as assistants and crew. It was shot in 12 days on location in St Wenn, Cornwall. The film was then test-screened in village halls and small venues in order to get feedback and to raise money for post-production, successfully raising a further £10,000 to complete the film through a crowdfunding campaign.
It took a total of four years to complete the film and six or seven different edits. Apparently the test screenings had a massive effect on the final film, with the opening sequence added, reordering and 3 extra days of shooting. According to Harvey, openly asking for feedback was a tough process but due to the mixed audiences they really benefitted from all the feedback and it was the right process for the film.
Weekend Retreat will be submitted to other festivals where they hope to sell the film to a distributor and the film to have a limited theatrical release combined with a multi-platform release. The film demonstrates Cornish filmmaking at its best and hopefully will successfully gain the release it deserves.
Director: Brett Harvey
Writer: Brett Harvey
Cast: Esther Hall, Dudley Sutton, Dominic Coleman, Dean Nolan, Simon Harvey
Runtime: 76 mins