The Retreat (2021) review

By Daniel King

If you only see one Canadian lesbian slasher flick this year, make it this one! Although if it’s really the slasher element you’re after don’t, because this really isn’t a slasher in the HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH tradition. It’s not exactly a horror film either; more a brutal thriller with political undertones in a vein similar to Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent 2015 film GREEN ROOM. That was about a group of punk kids terrorised by neo-Nazis, while this one is about homosexuals terrorised by homophobic, survivalist Proud Boy types.

Renee and Valerie (Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen respectively) travel out into the sticks to spend a weekend with their friends, a couple who run a guest house in the middle of nowhere. There’s no-one there to welcome them though and pretty soon they find out why. The rest of the film concerns their efforts to escape the clutches of the scumbags into whose hands they have fallen.

I’m sorry to say I found this film to be almost offensively unoriginal, not to mention wildly implausible. From the get-go we’re being asked to suspend our disbelief to the extent that we can swallow the idea that a bunch of homicidal maniacs, who also happen to be homophobes, happen to be based near a gay B&B run by two homosexual men whose two lesbian friends happen to be visiting for the weekend. You know Roger Ebert’s famous phrase ‘The Fallacy of the Predictable Tree’, in which he criticised FIRST BLOOD for having Rambo hide in the exact tree that the baddie would pause under? This is that sort of film.

On top of that it slavishly follows most of the cliches in the genre playbook: POV; bear traps; video cameras; masks; a bit of mild bondage; heroine(s) eventually turning the tables and ending up covered in blood. That would be easier to bear, perhaps, if the film weren’t so gleefully, gloatingly sadistic. What I mean is intentionally setting up the villains to be so despicable that it justifies any level of violence in bringing them down – what you might call the Tarantino effect. I mean, one baddie is killed via CRT monitor to the head when the heroine is already carrying a baseball bat.

The identity politics of it too are murky. Renee and Valerie are lesbians, and they are resourceful and resilient, but the nature of their relationship isn’t fleshed out to any greater extent that a single ‘where is this going?’ awkward conversation. The fact that they and their friends are gay seems to me to not be germane to the plot; they might as easily have all been Democrats, or hippies, or atheists. The good ol’ boys are meant to represent all the intolerances of Trump-era America rolled into one but again there’s no depth to it.

I wanted to like this but there’s just too much wrong with it to give it a recommendation.

The Retreat opens Friday 21st May in select US Theatres and on VOD

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