Whilst director Pat Mills (Guidance) and screenwriter Alyson Richards (The Sublet) don’t exactly travel anywhere entirely unexpected with The Retreat, the tenacity, gory mentality, and ultimate queer strength at its core allows this survivalist slasher film to earn more than enough points of recommendation for fans of the genre.
The early minutes of the film are bathed in a much lighter tone as girlfriends Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and Valerie (Sarah Allen) set out for a couples weekend at a secluded cabin. In the realms of the horror world such a destination means not everyone is getting out alive, and Renee and Valerie already being a little on edge due to their back-and-forth over where their relationship is going – Valerie wants the commitment that Renee seems intent on running away from – means they’re on instant high-alert when their cabin has been ransacked and their car seemingly stolen.
Given that The Retreat was clearly made on a limited budget, Mills is all too aware of how to utilise his constraints when it comes to the film’s setting. There’s actually something deceptively vast about the secluded land the cabin sits on, and that level of distance plays to the film’s strength when Renee and Valerie start running for their life. On that mention, the big bads of The Retreat are hardly the most surprising characters – cue homophobic intentions in 3, 2, 1… – and as easy as it would be to deep dive on just how these one-dimensional villains have evaded law enforcement for such an extended period of time, picking apart as such isn’t at all necessary, especially when the film ultimately delights in an LGBTQIA bend to its straightforward narrative.
There’s plenty of unnerving nastiness to watching Renee and Valerie be isolated and primed for torture, but their ability in turning the tables on their captors (which, if you’ve seen ANY survivalist horror film, is not a spoiler) means we accept such interludes. The violence quota offers a few wince-inducing moments, but nothing overtly exploitive which, again, works in the film’s favour as its characters operate on a level that feels organic to such a situation; no superhuman strength or killers coming back for a final scare after they’ve been brutally put down.
Characters going for those getaway moments is a cinematic rule that should never be broken within the horror genre. We know they shouldn’t go, but we have such fun in watching them mostly suffer before violently persevering, much like in The Retreat, that we can forgive such a trope being explored again and again (and again). Mills’ thriller never flirts with breaking new ground, but we’re happy to give it the benefit of the doubt for talking a good game and suitably delivering on its sell.
The Retreat is available now in Australia to rent on VOD (AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft Store) through Lightbulb Film Distribution.