The Retreat (2021) Movie Review – Cat and Mouse Horror Fun
Renee and Valerie, a couple at a cross roads in their relationship, leave the city to spend the week at a remote cabin with friends. But when they arrive, their friends are nowhere to be found. As they stumble through their relationship woes, they discover they are being hunted by a group of militant extremists who are determined to exterminate them.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to our review of Shudder horror movie The Retreat from 2021. This movie is a few years old now and we just stumbled across it in our “recommended movies” list. We decided to check it out and were left feeling pretty entertained at the end. Given some of the crap we have reviewed on this site. That’s a massive win.
The Retreat is one of those horror movies that is happy simply to exist. It doesn’t really try to do anything new and it doesn’t aim to excite the viewer with twists and surprises. It just sets out to fill that small gap in your schedule that just happens to be slasher horror sized. And with that, it does a very good job. This is an enjoyable, tense, and fun romp.
What it does try to do, however, is to tap into a few different themes that may appeal to certain viewers. We have some revenge stuff here, a little bit of dark web horror, a tiny bit of relationship drama and LGBTQ+ protagonists. But is The Retreat worth a watch? The best answer I can give to that is yeah, it really is.
Slasher Survival Fun
The Retreat follows the story of young couple Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and Valerie (Sarah Allen) as they head out on a pre-wedding weekend getaway. When the pair arrive at the cabin, they are shocked to see that their friends are nowhere to be found. Exploring the grounds of the holiday home. They begin to notice that some things are amiss. Little do they realise, they have walked into a trap that will have them fighting for survival.
You can expect all of the standard slasher tropes here. Characters running for their lives and doing dumb things, maniacal killers with questionable motivations and some brutal kills. The Retreat isn’t exactly trying to rewrite the script when it comes to these types of horror movies. It is perfectly content offering up a few simple thrills and some relatively decent tension.
LGBTQ+ Characters and Themes
It goes without saying that horror is becoming more diverse as time goes on. Traditionally, horror has been the home of young, white, straight people with very limited deviation. Minority characters tended to be featured purely to become “first kill” fodder. And characters from other groups were often depicted as strange or, potentially, dangerous. People will cry “woke” but facts are facts.
Horror has a really troubling history in this regard. The sad thing is, it has been up to LGBTQ+ and minority directors to bring added diversity to the genre. There has been no major push from the horror film making community, as a whole, to reflect the experiences of other groups. We are still in something of a dark age when it comes to this. There is light at the end of the tunnel, though, and attitudes are beginning to change.
The Retreat’s protagonists being gay does actually play into the plot somewhat. With writer Alyson Richards’ aggressive screenplay going into some detail to reflect the everyday hate and bigotry encountered by LGBTQ+ people. But it is predominantly in the motivations of the antagonists that we see the real reason for why the couple being gay matters. That’s not to say that it is the antagonist’s only motivation. Far from it. But representation is very important and the events taking place here feel all the more real and spiteful due to their cause.
You really relate to Valerie and Renee and root for them. They are a tremendously likable couple and not your typical “last girls”. The Retreat goes a long way to emphasising just how horrific their situation is and just how hard they are willing to fight. This is helped greatly by just how maniacal and savage the antagonists, lead by Aaron Ashmore who is clearly having a great time, are. They are incredibly violent and motivated by simple greed and hate. It’s effective stuff and makes the couple’s struggle seem all the more impossible to overcome. It in these moments of survival that The Retreat is at its best.
Genuinely Tense in Parts
Whereas The Retreat doesn’t really try to do anything new. It is still very effective in some of its moments of tension. The cabin is surrounded by woods and a lake. Offering ample opportunity for characters to slip away and hide in the darkness. Building suspense and letting the cat and mouse scenarios develop. It never goes too far into the realms of silliness with the decisions made by the characters. Avoiding some of the typical pitfalls of movies like this.
The scenarios stay believable, as well. This is something that could genuinely happen. Especially if motivated by hate and director Pat Mills never forgets this. Keeping the ridiculousness to a minimum and maintaining a satisfyingly visceral tone throughout. The movie never manages to escape from its predictability, though. There are no major surprises here and you will probably see most of what happens coming.
There are some extremely satisfying moments, despite this. And the movie provokes smiles for some of its more hilarious scenes of characters fighting back. Whereas some of the themes presented here could have done with a little more exploring. Everything works quite well and it all leads up to an ending that feels extremely fitting and a lot of fun.
A Few Issues
The Retreat takes place, predominantly, at night and it is extremely dark. This is probably going to annoy a few viewers. Cinematography is decent with a glorious autumn palette looking rich and vibrant throughout. But it is hard to ignore how gloomy the movie can be, in parts. As soon as the sun drops you are going to be spending more than half of the movie squinting at characters shrouded in black. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable watch, to be honest.
It’s hard not to think that there was a lot left on the table here, as well. There are so many elements that remain unexplored. Mills offers us a tantalising taste of a truly intriguing mystery but is all too eager to wrap things up. Never really going into any great detail about the antagonists, the cabin itself, or what the overriding motivation was for what takes place. Mills is desperate to get to the sneaking around and ass kicking. And while this is enjoyable and commendable when compared to some slasher movies that get lost in the minutia. It is difficult not to feel disappointed and a little undernourished when it comes to background and details.
Tommie-Amber Pirie, as Renee, is very good here. I covered one of her more recent films, The Amityville Curse, and hated it. Finding her performance there to be very good but feeling she was, perhaps, a little bored. I think her role here fits her like a glove and she clearly has a great time. She is incredibly fitting as a bad ass woman that is the wrong person to pick on. Managing to make her character feel human and vulnerable while also being strong and absolutely determined to fight back.
Likewise for Sarah Allen as Valerie. She is depicted as slightly less capable but she is no less bad ass. With Allen expertly reflecting her character’s growing resolve as the movie goes on.
Aaron Ashmore is really good. He seems to be having a ton of fun playing a horrible bastard and does great with it. I, also, really enjoyed Celina Sinden as Layna but felt there was so much meat left on the bones with her character. I would have loved to know more about her and seen some background. This is somewhat indicative of the issues I mentioned earlier. The Retreat is too eager to get to the violence. Leaving many of the characters unexplored.
Final Thoughts and Score
The Retreat doesn’t really do too much unique outside of its lead character’s sexuality. It’s fantastic to see representation but the movie is very content with being a decent, simple, cat and mouse slasher film. Well acted and with break neck pacing. The tension starts straight away and doesn’t really let up. Unfortunately leaving many of the movie’s more intriguing elements completely unexplored.
Still, there is plenty to enjoy here. Acting is great and our protagonists are incredibly likable. Offering up characters that you can genuinely root for. The movie can be way too dark in places and can feel poorly fleshed out in parts. But other than that, The Retreat is a lot of fun and has some moments that stand out for just how fun they are. Well worth a watch.