A good psychological thriller teeters on a balancing act between horror and drama. It should have you on the edge of your seat trying to figure “who done it,” or the secrets to the plot. The viewer’s mind should be titillated and be left pondering the movie for hours, if not days after the viewing. SILENT RETREAT achieves all this… for the most part.
A great way to start any movie, well maybe not a romantic comedy, is to have a girl tied upon the woods and begging for her life, and that’s exactly what we get here. SILENT RETREAT instantly drew me in with this imagery. I want a movie to grab me, shake me, and force me to watch what is to come next. Goddamn, I love that feeling!
Soon enough, we catch up with our protagonist, Janey (Chelsea Jenish). Janey has been sent to an experimental rehabilitation center in the middle of the woods. Her crime is assault. Her choice was simple 2 weeks at rehab or 2 years in prison. She chose the same way I would have. The man in charge of the rehab center is simply known as “Doctor” (Robert Nolan), and he’s creepy as fuck. He immediately gives off a Richard Lynch vibe in BAD DREAMS. The Doctor explains that he is going to cure Janey through communication depravation. This doesn’t make any sense to me. How is not talking and no eye contact going to help anybody? It may not make sense, but it sure is intriguing.
Holy shit, I just realized that it’s only females being rehabilitated here. Why only females? I’m all set to start screaming “misogyny” and “smash the patriarchy”, that is until I realize that SILENT RETREAT is directed by Tricia Lee, a female filmmaker who specializes in indie horror. That’s all it took, now I am in love with this movie.
Besides the “no communication or eye contact” rule, part of the patient’s therapy is hypnotism and meditation. The theme of hypnotism has a retro feel to it, as if were something out of the late 1970s or early 1980s. I like that it doesn’t seem modern. Modern movies just seem stale, and this certainly doesn’t. SILENT RETREAT could easily be a companion piece to THE STEPFORD WIVES or GET OUT. It’s funny that at the exact moment when SILENT RETREAT is reminding me of THE STEPFORD WIVES, one of the characters actually makes a reference to it.
Other than the Doctor running the camp, he also has his equally disturbing sons Albert (Matthew Romantini) and Paul (Mark Buck). Not only do they have a few screws loose, but they are also total pervs who like to watch the women shower and get dressed. They aren’t even funny perverts like the ones you might see in a John Waters film, but more like Christian perverts. You know the kind — you think they are all perfect, and then you learn they are serial rapists.
When any of the women act up, they get put in a solitary environment, where they are subjected to a sort of aversion therapy. The images flashed on the screen are one part conventional family life, like the concussion scenes in A DIRTY SHAME or the therapy sessions in BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER, and they are one part nonsensical black and white, a la THE RING.
Halfway through the second act, the movie gets really strange and a bit hard to follow. Now we discover that the rehabilitation center is actually run by a family of psychos. Oh and if you try to escape, a bloodthirsty monster that lives in the woods comes out after the sun goes down, and eats people.
The climax is the pay-off for any heavy-duty gore fans out there. When SILENT RETREAT suddenly changes from a psychological thriller to a creature feature, the wheels come off the train, and we go completely of the rails. For most of the movie, I didn’t think there was an actual monster in the woods. Surprise — it’s all real. Really brought to my mind the character of Queenie from MOTHER’S DAY (1980). Although the monster looks much more like something out of THE DESCENT, another great feminist horror film.
SILENT RETREAT is a stew of horror sub-genres containing a lot of ideas, most of them executed well. The practical effects and gore were great. I also loved seeing the psycho male characters act so cowardly when the creature attacked, although would have like to see stronger female characters. SILENT RETREAT is a fun backwoods, psychological mindfuck that I think any true horror fan would enjoy.