A couple finds their way to the countryside after being invited to a retreat by a couple of friends. As these LGBTQ+ couples leave the safety of the large city, they soon find out that the countryside, this one in particular, is not very friendly to people who do not fit the locals’ ideas of what should be acceptable.
Written by Alyson Richards and directed by Pat Mills, The Retreat takes the backwoods backwards population trope and spins it on its head a little by making them seemingly well-educated people who look normal, good even, but who are completely behind the times in how they think of same sex couples and what they are ready to do to them as they capture them at this retreat. The film takes a horror approach to things and makes it a violent time for all involved. There is a point to all of this though and for some, the point will get lost in the bloodshed; while for others, the bloodshed will only help make the point more potent. The film takes an interesting approach in everything by not making the bad guys straight up backwoods creatures, but just people who were thought differently and for whom this leads to some extreme actions to rid the world of people they think to be evil. The film is a bit brutal in some ways, so some viewer discretion is advised.
Helping the film not fall into cliches and tropes too much is the cast led by Tommie Amber-Pirie and Sarah Allen. They make for the kind of couple one expects to see, lesbians or not, they aren’t perfect, but they want to make things work. They have their good bits and their bad sides, they make the most of their lives and agree on things to keep their relationship work. The two actresses take this and make the most of it, giving two characters that the viewer can care about, fully human, flaws and all. The cast playing the bad guys, including Shawn Ashmore and Celina Sinden, give off the right intensity and the right amount of creep factor. They work this in just the right way to make their characters despicable, yet not to the point of making the viewer turn off the film. Yes, they are despicable, yet they are evil, and yes they go too far, but this is needed to transpose the right emotions and give the right amount of an impression to bring them forth as clearly off.
As the horror here is more in the situation than in the acts of the locals, the special effects are not as important as the atmosphere, but still, they are done with talent and have a high quality to them that makes them blend into the film perfectly. And by blend, of course what is meant that they fit in and are nicely gross at times, while staying minimal and appropriate. Helping these is the cinematography that puts the atmosphere right on the screen and it helps give the effects as well as the performance, the right spotlight. The work of David Schuurman is careful and well done, working with the locations and the darkness just right. The way certain things are shown, or not shown, adds a lot to this film.
The Retreat is an effective horror film with a very timely issue at its center. It uses its characters to best possible effect and the performances help this greatly. It’s a horror film that will, of course, resonate more with some than others, but everyone should be able to see the dread in the leads as they find themselves in a locale where people want them dead.