Ever since Jason Voorhees stalked the residents of Camp Crystal Lake in the original Friday the 13th movie, isolated retreats have been a firm staple of the horror genre. We’ve had summer camps and bible camps but what about meditation camps? What ghoulish new fun can we have there?
The answer can be found in Tricia Lee’s film Silent Retreat in which Chelsea Jenish plays Janey, a young woman who is sent to a silent meditation retreat for a course in social rehabilitation to avoid spending time in jail. Whilst there, Janey quickly realises that there is more to the camp than meets the eye; it becomes apparent that the men in charge of the camp are using brainwashing techniques to control the women on the course and make sure that their strict rules are adhered to. Janey starts to formulate an escape plan, but first she’ll have to confront the shadowy presence that lurks in the surrounding woods.
Silent Retreat is very atmospheric from the beginning. The setting is eerily peaceful, an effect achieved with lush cinematography and a sombre, subtle tone which provides a bold contrast to the menacing screen presence of the sinister Doctor who runs the camp, played by horror stalwart Robert Nolan. Nolan gives a captivating and screen stealing performance throughout the film which is genuinely chilling to watch.
The film is also heavy on subtext; the strict rules of the camp seem to mirror the constraints of the larger world outside and the rulers of the camp send out a familiar message – conform or be punished! The women in the story are being oppressed by a male hierarchy that is run with the iron fist of traditional right wing Christian values. It’s not too much of leap to say that this could be a metaphor for misogynistic attitudes that exist in certain groups in America today. The film could also be viewed not only as a statement of how women are treated in society, but how they are portrayed in horror films; eye candy to be leered at by a predominantly male audience.
Another aspect of the film is how the imposed silence of the women at the retreat echoes the inability of women to speak out against injustices committed by tyrannical male regimes. Unfortunately, this promising premise struggles to live up to its potential because the film feels as if it’s trying to do too much at once. There are just too many ideas vying for attention and it doesn’t help that although the film’s lead is relatable, she is outshined by the supporting actors around her.
The film finds its way in the second half however, as the mysteries of the first half are explained and muted preposition gives way to thrilling action packed set pieces. One particular scene at this point is genuinely harrowing and emotionally powerful and this alone provides a satisfying climax to the preceding drama.
Silent Retreat is an accomplished film; what Tricia Lee does best is inject new life and fresh ideas into tried and tested horror genre staples and this film is no exception. If that sounds like something you want, then I’d urge you to give this film a watch. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
3.5 / 5
SILENT RETREAT is currently available on VOD. It is directed by Tricia Lee and stars Chelsea Jenish, Robert Nolan, and Sofia Banzhaf. For more information on how you may see SILENT RETREAT visit their official website here: http://www.silentretreatmovie.com/