A potentially decent film about tension between best friends, monsters in the snow, and alternate versions of what might have happened. The only clear message is don’t take drugs.
I like a good monster movie. Great, I thought, when I was offered the chance to review The Retreat: I like a bit of man-versus-nature, blood in the trees and all that, and I’ve never seen a wendigo before. Having seen the film, I’m left still wondering whether Gus and Adam, the best buds it featured, have ever seen one.
Adam (Dylan Grunn) is due to marry soon, and despairing at the news that he’ll then move house to somewhere near his fiancé’s parents, Gus (Grant Schumacher) offers to do whatever Adam dreams of for his stag celebration. Thus, the pair head to the Adirondack High Peaks for a few days hiking in the snow, Adam relishing the outdoors and Gus humoring him in the hope that he’ll discover some second thoughts. They get settled in a holiday cabin, the host tells tales about the local legends, and one of the other residents lay out some temptation in the form of hippy hallucinogenic “tea”. After conquering their first of a planned series of peaks, Adam and Gus indulge a little in the tea… so when Gus is disturbed by a monster in the night and wakes up to find his friend dead, well is there really a wendigo in the woods, is he imagining everything? And will either of them get home in one piece?
Writer/director Bruce Wemple has delivered a neat little film which is more a doomed buddy movie and psychological horror than it is a monster flick, like The Ritual, in that sense. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Retreat raises the monster legend right from the start, and the (possibly three) wendigos do look pretty damned creepy, especially when they’re on the move. It’s smaller scale than The Ritual, too, and this adds to the sense of isolation Gus feels when things all go wrong: with no-one else around, except possibly monsters, panic is going to feed his imagination on top of any drug he’s consumed.
Once the young stags have taken said drug, everything gets a bit twisted: if Gus can’t rely on his senses, the audience can’t rely on Gus. This makes The Retreat a little confusing at times, but more intriguing. The delivery of the various zigzags the script takes is overall pretty satisfying… until the final image, which – honestly – belonged in a drunken Halloween party.
I liked Nate VanDeusen’s screeching soundtrack, adored some of the snow-covered landscapes, and I don’t regret watching the film at all. But if you can, switch off The Retreat ten seconds before the end.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.