Silent Retreat is a 2013 Canadian horror film from director Tricia Lee. Although Lee had previously directed a few short films, Silent Retreat would serve as her first feature film. However, Lee has since directed a few other films, including 2016’s Blood Hunters (distributed by Wild Eye Releasing, and available to watch free on Tubi as of the time of this writing). The film was written by Corey Brown, who also served as the writer on Blood Hunters.
Silent Retreat opens to find a woman tied to a tree by a long leather strap, her hands bound behind her. She begs for her freedom, vowing to do whatever may be asked of her. It quickly becomes evident that someone or something is lurking nearby. As proof, the strap is yanked, and the young woman is dragged off-screen, presumably to her death. This leads into the film’s title sequence and opening credits.
We are soon introduced to Janie (Chelsea Jenish, who sadly has not appeared in much else), who, in lieu of jail time, is sentenced to a rehabilitation program located deep in the midst of an secluded forest. The program is overseen by the stern Dr. Prince (Robert Nolan, who can also be seen in the 2017 horror film, Once Upon a Time at Christmas, as well as in the video for Alice in Chains’ “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”) and his two grown sons.
The rules of the program are simple: No speaking. No eye-contact. No technology (i.e. cell phones, computers). No physical contact. Just silence and self-reflection. Go to bed each day at sunset and awaken at each sunrise. Speak and you lose your meal privilege. Refuse to cooperate and off to jail you go.
Prince’s program is quite small, overseeing no more than five girls at any one time. Each of the girls in the program is assigned her own one-room cabin, the rooms no larger than a toolshed. At just before sunset each evening, the girls gather at the much larger cabin that houses the kitchen for their nightly supper. On her first evening, Janie asks one of the other girls a question. This break in the silence results in her losing her evening meal. This draws a laugh from yet another girl (who I’ll refer to as “Pinky”, due to the pink stripe in her hair), also new to the program, which results in her losing her meal as well.
Pinky draws quite a bit of attention to herself with defiance to Prince’s rules, and Janie soon witnesses her being dragged to a special cabin used for “isolating” the troubled girls. Repulsed, Janie attempts to flee the program, but is tracked down by one of Prince’s sons and returned to the camp… but not before hearing the sound of something following her from the nearby woods.
In time, Janie eventually bonds with another girl named Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf, who has since began filming her own short films). After an incident in which Alexis laces the evening meal (resulting in everyone except her and Janie becoming violently ill), the girls finally get the chance to converse and agree that Prince’s real intentions are not to rehabilitate the girls, but to brainwash them into becoming docile, “Stepford Wife”-like servants. During this time, they both reveal to each other that they have both spent time in the “isolation cabin” (which I will now refer to as the “reprogramming cabin”), an event that neither girl remembers.
The reasons that the girls have found themselves in trouble with the law are finally revealed, and while I fully understand that these are issues that women regularly face (homophobia in one case, defending themselves from a sexual assault in the other), here they just feel a tad predictable and heavy-handed. Then again, I’m male, so my point of view very well may be skewed, and different from your own (or at least those of women). Either way, the reasons really have no relevance to the film’s plot, and I may have wasted your time even mentioning them.
After uncovering Prince’s true intentions, the two girls plan their escape. Naturally, this does not go as planned, and the girls soon find themselves in the surrounding forest, not only on the run from the doctor and his sons, but also from the creature that has now made its presence known. As one might expect, this leads to the film’s first acts of carnage, with the creature dispatching large portions of the cast. This also presents the film with its first real doses of gore and guts, accompanied by some very gloopy-sounding audio effects.
As for the creature itself? Personally, I found the design to be a bit simplistic and not overly compelling, but it not something that I would necessarily call “poor quality”. If anything, the creature is just far too humanoid for my preference, looking almost like a wingless bat/Smurf hybrid. Ok, so it’s probably a little more intimating a monster than I’ve just described, but you get the gist.
The action picks up for the film’s final sequence, which features more monster carnage, character deaths, and a fairly unrealistic, but still quite entertaining knife fight. Unfortunately, this can’t make up for the film’s final moment, which I just found quite hard to swallow. No spoilers, but I’m just not buying that this is the correct way to deal with the monster. In fact, it makes earlier parts of the film feel a little contradictory.
Overall, Silent Retreat is not what I would call a “great” film, but I did find myself surprised by just how much of the film I did enjoy. While I have admittedly not watched director Lee’s other films, Silent Retreat is a fairly impressive debut with solid performances from its leads.. In some ways, Silent Retreat reminded me a little of Lucky McKee’s 2006 film, The Woods (which I reviewed earlier this year – link), albeit with more action and gore, and significantly less story depth. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as many folks that I’ve spoken with found The Woods to be boring.
As of this writing, I have not been able to find Silent Retreat on any free streaming sites (although I did find a 2016 horror film with the same title), but you can rent it from Amazon Prime for about $8. The film was released to DVD by Black Fawn Distribution in 2015, and copies can be found on both Amazon and eBay for about the same price, if not cheaper.