Silent Retreat (2014)



Genre jumping films are rather difficult to pull of. Genre jumping horror films are an even more fickle bunch. For every Alien or Scream that meld two (or more) genres into horror, there are the bones of countless films scattered across the landscape of moviedom. Silent Retreat is pretty unique in that it tries to combine deep psychological horror with a weird sort of creature feature. It's certainly different...but is it any good? Much like the film, it's not that simple.

Janey (Chelsea Jenish) is a troubled young girl. She finds herself on the wrong side of a judges gavel (is there a right side of the judges gavel?) after assaulting someone and gets herself sentenced to an experimental camp for girls meant to curb undesirable behavior. This experimental procedure involves existing in complete silence and submitting to a reeducation program led by camp leader The Doctor (no not that one) and his two sons. Janey isn't at the camp long (about 7 and a half seconds) before she realizes something is amiss.

She tries to talk to the other girls only to be met with their silence and punishment from The DoctorA Clockwork Orange. Troubled young girls are being brought to this camp, and essentially brainwashed into becoming conformist members of the patriarchy, young Stepford Wives if you will (the good 70's version, not the shitty Nicole Kidman version) in a completely soundless environment (kind of) and his sons. Getting nowhere verbally, she goes all silent CSI, forming a partnership with Alexis (Sophia Banzhaf), to try and escape The Doctors odd form of rehabilitation. This rehab mirrors a lot of what we see in the social reeducation scenes from

Janey and Alexis crack the case and here is where things start to get a little, okay a lot, weird. This is also the point of the film where you will buy in to the abrupt shift in tone and genre of the film, or you will start throwing things at the screen.

Unfortunately, I was in the latter category. It's not like the "creature feature" part of the film is bad, it's just not as good as the psychological torture part of the film. Up until the film flips it's spectacular. I'm not sure if writer Corey Brown just figured the idea was a bit thin and thought to spice up the third act a bit with the introduction of the monsters, but it leaves our leading ladies running through the typical damsel in distress beats rather than being righteous kick ass CSI agents that they are in the first hour or so of the film. The film could have worked without the creature (I feel a Flipping The Script article coming), it would have had to venture deeper into that empowered woman/revenge territory to do so. But then again we've seen that film a hundred times. So to Browns credit, there really hasn't been a film that attempts to do what Silent Retreat does in it's third act. The introduction of the creature really blurs the lines of good and evil and puts everyone into this uncomfortable shade of gray that kind of leads nowhere.

If that sounds a bit harsh there are quite a few silver linings around the Silent Retreat cloud, so let's make some folks happy. By far, the highlight of Silent Retreat is the direction by Tricia Lee. Normally I don't gush or go crazy about technical things, but what Lee does with Browns script is really damn good. She teases the creature to the point where you ill be screaming at the screen..."show it...show it already!" Sorry. Very good stuff.

The other big positive are the performances that Lee gets from her fairly inexperienced cast. Jenish is breathtaking as the lead. Her chemistry with Sophia Banzhaf is tremendous. Overall, it's extremely well acted for a small independent film, where performances are usually hit or miss.

Silent Retreat is a tight, scary, little film that scratches the surface on some really deep issues involving dominance and sexuality. It takes a right turn int creature feature territory and gets it's message a little muddled in it's third act. Still, pock marks aside, Silent Retreat is still a good film and certainly owrth checking out.

Catch Silent Retreat at any of the screenings found HERE.

*** 1/2  out of *****

Thanks For Reading and "Enjoy Every Sandwich"

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