Thursday, June 19, 2014

Silent Retreat: A Horror Creature Feature à la The Stepford Wives

Janey is a troubled young woman, recently orphaned, who has been sent to a "silent meditation retreat" to get her life back in order. The facility is run by a man simply known as the Doctor, who rules the isolated campground with a heavy hand. Only five patients are treated at a time, and there is to be no talking, reading, or writing among them--only silent reflection and meditation for a period of 60 days.

As Janey struggles to conform with the almost Puritan lifestyle that's been forced upon her, she notices that the other patients--who are all women, and about the same age--are seemingly becoming docile introverts after receiving "special treatment" in one of the cabins.

To make matters worse, at night, as silence descends upon the remote facility, Janey starts to hear strange, inhuman noises coming from the woods...

There's a lot to like in director Tricia Lee's debut feature film, yet it has its share of shortcomings--most of which can be attributed to the script. I really like the concept; thanks to the strict rules that the patients must endure, I was looking forward to being emotionally manipulated through sound design (since I didn't expect there would be a lot of dialogue). But this did not happen often enough; ultimately, this conceit worked against the film. And because we didn't hear a lot from the characters, it took a long time to get emotionally invested in them, since they really didn't do much for the first half of the film.

The two leading young actresses (Chelsea Jenish, Sofia Banzhaf) do a fine job in carrying the emotional weight of the movie, but I found the Doctor character--although deftly played by Robert Nolan--was such a rampant stereotype that he was practically jumping up and down in every scene, yelling, "I'm a misogynist!" This character was written as a predictable, one-note, unrealistic caricature, and his dialogue was often groan-worthy. He was such an in-your-face antagonist that he lessened the impact of the supernatural beasts that lurked in the woods.

Speaking of which, these night-dwelling, cannibalistic creatures are handled quite well, and are slowly revealed over the course of the movie (yet I'm still not sure if there was more than one of them). Ultimately, though, they just seem to serve the plot; otherwise, there's no real reason for them to be there. And the "big reveal" at the end just ended up being another head-scratching moment.

Despite these misgivings, I suggest watching Silent Retreat on the big screen; it's the kind of horror film that is best served up with a group of friends, in a crowded theatre. And it's always good to support homegrown films playing on Canadian screens.

Here's the current slate of theatrical screenings across Canada:

JUNE 13 - 26, 2014

JULY 22 - 24, 2014

JULY 24 - 27, 2014

JULY 25, 2014

The movie was awarded Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and was an officially selected for competition at Nocturna, the International Fantastic Film Festival of Madrid.

Here's the trailer:

Tricia Lee is definitely a director to watch out for, and I look forward to seeing what else she produces in the horror genre. Her next feature, Clean Break, will be released in July.


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