‘The Weekend Away’ Review: A Croatian Vacay Turns Hazardous

Current B-grade thrillers so frequently have too little plot — often not much more than a starting premise — that it’s almost refreshing to see something like “The Weekend Away,” which has many more narrative complications than it can pull off. Certainly not with sufficient credibility, suspense or atmosphere, and not in one hectic hour and a half. Nonetheless, this Netflix original plunging Leighton Meester into peril on a Croatian holiday is fast-moving enough to provide a decent night’s disposable home entertainment for viewers whose expectations aren’t geared any higher.

Director Kim Farrant’s last two features (2015’s “Strangerland,” 2019’s “Angel of Mine”) both involved suspicions cast on unstable adults over missing children. Whereas in “Weekend’s” missing person scenario, our protagonist is pretty much the sole character who doesn’t end up looking guilty of something or other. London-based American Beth (Meester) arrives in Split for a long-planned getaway with old pal Kate (Christina Wolfe), who has arranged rather luxurious digs for them — gloating that the husband she’s just divorced will foot the bill. While Beth’s own marriage to Rob (Luke Norris) is apparently undergoing a “rough patch,” she is nonetheless dedicated to their baby and to domesticity, taking this break only at her free-spirited erstwhile college roomie’s insistence.

Though disinclined to party-hearty, she reluctantly acquiesces when Kate’s “one night of excitement… [to] Bring you out of your rut” turns into clubbing with two random guys, then waking up the next morning with a brutal hangover and little memory of the prior evening. This is problematic, because Kate is now nowhere to be found. Despite her history of flaky, impulsive behavior, such absence is worrying enough that Beth soon alerts the local police (Amar Bukvic, Iva Mihalic). They are dismissive; Much more helpful is a Syrian-refugee taxi driver (Ziad Bakri) Beth has already befriended. Their sleuthing around only raises worse fears that get realized when Kate’s corpse is found — unsurprisingly, since the film opened with a flash-forward shot of her body floating in the Adriatic.

Our heroine’s distress is exacerbated further once she realizes the authorities regard her as a suspect in her friend’s murder. There’s no lack of other potential perps, either, ranging from the club-pickup gigolos (Marko Braic, Lujo Kuncevic) to the rental flat’s creepy landlord (Adrian Pezdirc). Even those investigating cops and Kate’s own husband start looking pretty shady, as fragmentary memories of the fateful evening return to her, and intel withheld by various parties is revealed.

Ultimately there are a few twists too many, pushing the story into a realm of excess contrivance. There’s not enough time or nuance to lend numerous narrative turnabouts plausibility. And despite the decent performances, we can’t quite buy into Beth’s primary relationships here: As played by Meester, she’s such a vanilla “all-American girl,” it doesn’t make sense she’d be besties with wild-child Kate , let alone have a long-term spouse concealing dark secrets. Presumably these dynamics played better in scenarist Sarah Alderson’s original novel (which is set in Lisbon rather than Split). But in the film’s brisk screen progress, the pileup of left-field plot developments soon becomes overkill.

To Farrant’s credit, that surplus melodrama somehow stops short of camp. The film is just nimble and poker-faced enough to skirt unintentional humor, even after we stop finding it remotely convincing. On the other hand, the director doesn’t demonstrate much feel for overall tension or physical action. Deprived the more complicated psychological dimensions of her prior thrillers to lean on, “Away” requires a more mysterious, threatening mood than she seems interested in summoning. Historic seaside Split looks like a scrubbed, sunny tourist’s delight here—not a place where one might fall into a pit of intrigue and possibly never get out alive.

For all its still-expansive credibility gaps and other flaws, however, the movie does provide a slick, pacey diversion. Rather like the kind of airport-bookstore potboiler it’s duly based on, “The Weekend Away” holds sufficient attention to pass the time. There are no evident towards anything memorable, despite the vaguely Hitchcockian tenor. Taken as the audiovisual equivalent of a beach read, it’s fun — certainly a notch or two above the level of such other recent Netflix woman-in-peril pulp fictions as “The Intrusion” or “Brazen.”

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