Actor-turned-filmmaker Pat Mills has made some great comedies (Guidance, Don’t Talk to Irene), and he’s currently challenging himself by branching out to different genres (CBC Gem’s short-form series Queens dabbles with mystery, for instance). The Retreat is Mills’ shot at making a straightforward horror-thriller, and it doesn’t go as straightforward as his previous endeavours.
The Retreat is stripped down to the basic requirements of a horror-thriller. It’s a typical woodsy tale of a couple on-the-rocks being stalked by an ominous threat. Not necessarily flooring viewers other than with the occasional use of splatter violence, the movie shuffles through its routine motions like someone checking off items on a shopping list. Mills has shown that he’s been able to subvert expectations with comedy, so it’s a bummer to watch the director autopilot his way through The Retreat. But while Mills’s unenthusiastic filmmaking should catch some of the blame for The Retreat’s mediocrity, it matches the uninspired nature of Alyson Richards’ dull screenplay. Richards previously co-wrote The Sublet, a story that packed in too many plot points. With The Retreat, Richards doesn’t provide enough interesting twists and turns.
Both Pat Mills and Alyson Richards are also guilty of relying on insufficient characterization to give the film its freshness. The movie emphasizes the connection between leading lovers Valerie and Renee (Sarah Allen, Tommie-Amber Pirie) and while the representation in The Retreat is encouraging, the material ties these characters down to merely their sexual orientation to represent who they are individually. When you compare The Retreat to Get Out, a horror-thriller that used observational storytelling to discuss different race relations, it’s obvious to see where the former film comes up short. By not elaborating on these traits, the audience is left with thin characters with very little to do. Because Valerie and Renee aren’t fully realized, the movie inadvertently interprets them as generic people in peril who do a lot of huffing and puffing as they outrun a lurking evil.
When that threat is juxtaposed with their malicious intentions, it reads as yet another undercooked decision in this disappointing misfire.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie