“The Retreat,” now streaming on VOD, is a survivalist horror film that sees big city couple Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and Valerie (Sarah Allen) out of their element and fighting for their lives in the remote countryside.
Renee and Valerie are at the, “If this isn’t going anywhere you have to let me know,” stage of their relationship. Valerie wants to go to the next level, Renee is elusive. Affectionate but noncommittal. “I’m trying to talk to someone who clearly has trouble with adult conversation and avoiding conflict,” Valerie says.”
A weekend away at a cabin with friends seems like the tonic their relationship needs, but doesn’t turn out as planned. They arrive to find the place deserted with no sign of friends Connor (Chad Connell) and Scott (Munroe Chambers). Alone in unfamiliar surroundings, the couple stumble across some unsettling signs. They hear sounds in the woods and a deer’s head strung between two trees unnerves Valerie but Renee, who used to hunt with her family, is less freaked out. “We were there to reduce the population by selective slaughter,” she says, foreshadowing an inner strength that will soon come in handy.
As darkness falls, they are convinced someone is watching from the woods and soon they’re in a battle for their lives against militant extremists determined to kill them simply because they are “different.” “Time to cull,” says killer Gavin before the axes start swinging.
Played out over a tight 82 minutes, “The Retreat” doesn’t waste time in setting up its characters and situation. Building atmosphere and a sense of tension through the remote setting and strain between Valerie and Renee, director Pat Mills gets down to business quickly, amping up the eeriness with jump scares and an eerie soundtrack.
These scenes are effective enough, although once the darkness hits, physically and metaphysically, the film itself goes dark with low light photography that sometimes makes it hard to see what’s happening.
So far, it’s a typical cabin-in-the-woods set-up but with one major difference.
What sets “The Retreat” apart from other rural survivalist films is its subtext. Horror is not often kind to LGBTQ+ characters, treating them as villains or killing them off soon after the opening credits have roiled. Here they are front and center. Hunted by a group of heavily armed losers simply because of who they are, Renee and Valerie fight back.
“The Retreat” is a welcome twist on the survival genre from a queer director and female screenwriter that mixes anxiety, horror and empowerment.