Review by Sarah Williams
Seemingly positioned to be the annual male-gazey low-budget horror advertising lesbian leads that inevitably turns up on VOD every year, The Retreat surprises by taking tired slasher tropes and instead giving the power back to its leads. A fairly straightforward cabin in the woods meets The Most Dangerous Game romp is gory, yet has a bleeding, beating heart beneath the surface.
Sarah Allen and Tommie-Amber Pirie star as new couple Valerie and Renee, who spend a weekend at a Canadian bed & breakfast, enticed by a professed atmosphere of inclusion, and the friendly gay married hosts that are advertised, on a trip to help plan a wedding. What they find, however, is a trap many before them have fallen into, where hunters are out for blood, and they have to fight their way through the night.
So much queer horror exists in character only, not commentating on any intersection between identity and the coming action, or worse, does so in a ham-fisted manner. The Retreat is an oddly clever take on the ‘rainbow-washing’ brands use to obtain a niche of customers, plastering on a facade of acceptance, pride, and solidarity just to corner another niche of the market without any radical action of tangible support. Here, it’s not just quarters spilled, but blood.
Hunters out for blood of the visitors, prominently a gay audience drawn in by promises of community, await them, and a You’re Next-style slasher progresses. It's formulaic at times, and sometimes falls into some predictable story beats, but solidly bloody. Though a clever social satire, there are some moments that feel like they’re poking fun at the class of some of the ‘white trash’ locals, but this isn’t exactly unusual in genre film. Allen and Pirie have an easy chemistry, and its lovely to watch their relationship strengthen through the night. Both play atypical final girls, smart and well-versed on the classic horror movie mistakes, and its nice to have heroines who act like they’ve seen Halloween and Scream at minimum.
What elevates The Retreat is the potential secondary metaphor, that it can be read as a satire of how queer horror fans are baited with promises of seeing ourselves onscreen, only to be mocked, fetishized, or have the characters placed there for us brutally slaughtered at the start. I’d worried this would be exactly like so many of these films, only to be pleasantly surprised that the gays get to win, and poke fun at this a bit in the end.
The Retreat is now available on VOD.