REVIEW: Silent Retreat
– By Sooz Webb
Ah, the old cabin in the woods. A perfect place to unwind, relax and die. Honestly, you think they’d have to put some sort of health warnings in the travel brochures by now. ‘CAUTION: Cabin contains gruesome, unavoidable massacre and/or loss of limb for at least one of your party. Please provide appropriate insurance.’ But I digress. Oblivious to genre tropes are the media firm who have rented said chalet, for a weekend of brainstorming and team building exercises in Silent Retreat. Nothing strengthens bonds like fighting for your life…
Our merry band of holidaymakers consist of the usual archetypes you find within this sort of film. There’s the chalk and cheese combo of religious nut and bitchy slut, the latter of whom bringing along her beefcake boyfriend as a travel accessory. There’s the horny tech guy, who’s secret fear is that carpal tunnel will one day affect his ability to self love, and therefore break up the only relationship he’s ever had (I don’t know that for a fact, it’s just a feeling I got). There’s the lackluster boss, who progressed up the management ladder I know not how, and then there’s the nice lad and equally nice girl. He likes her, she likes him…maybe? It’s Ross and Rachel with my emotions all over again!
On the whole, Silent Retreat is an enjoyable film. It has an incredibly strong, intriguing opening, which piques your interest and draws you into the story. Comparably, the ending has a feel of the M Nights about it, and is a gratifying rounding off to the tale. It’s the mid-section that becomes increasingly exasperating for a variety of reasons. The biggest is that we question A LOT of the characters’ decisions. Okay, I know that often when watching horror, we’re inclined to shout at the T.V ‘Why would you even go out there? In the pitch black? With a killer on the loose?!?’ But the decisions become a chain reaction, and play into the story. Unfortunately, within the execution of this film, they stand out as plot point conveniences which the characters awkwardly fumble into. For example, in a particularly cringey scene, the nice girl takes it upon herself to investigate the attic. Which is fair enough. Spooky attic, we can dig it. However, when she comes across newspaper articles containing information regarding the cabin’s past, she reads them to herself OUT LOUD. In a way that no person would. Ever. I understand the attempt to inform of backstory, it’s just pulled off in an incredibly uncomfortable way. Again, when the churchly chick goes missing after an early morning jog, her co-workers give less than a crap. Even though she’s been gone for more than 12 hours. And the woods are apparently chock-full of bears. They’re too busy getting pissed on red wine, thank you very much! I couldn’t work out if they were heartless bastards or secret satanists.
Production-wise is where the film really shines. Slick editing helps to drive the cumbersome story, while the beautiful location, which is superbly shot, makes the film visually gratifying to watch. Although the gore is minimal, what we do see is exceptionally accomplished. There’s a particularly gruesome scene, the implications of which would cause even the most hardened to shudder. The cast are of a standard to pull off the clunky dialogue without too many hiccups and successfully convey the team aspect of their unit. Devon Ogden is particularly strong as the bitch with yo-yo knickers, and we get to see a broad range of vicious emotions throughout her performance. Equally noteworthy is Eli Bildner, who manages to portray his character’s repugnant sensibilities with a hint of affability.
Although the format is incredibly familiar to us, Silent Retreat has little moments of brilliance that ensures watchability. Despite the frustrations, it’s worth sticking with to the end, as the repercussions of its conclusion are fascinating. If nothing else, it serves as a warning, to read the fine print next time you make travel plans.