Director: Tricia LeeWriter: Corey Brown and Tricia LeeStars: Chelsea Jenish, Sofia Banzhaf, Robert NolanHorror - Mystery - ThrillerReviewed by Char Hardin4 Out of 5
"THIS IS THE ONLY CONVERSATION YOU WILL HAVE HERE."
Janey (Chelsea Jenish) has been sentenced to a month of rehabilitation with Dr. Prince (Robert Nolan) in the middle of nowhere deep in the woods at Prince's Silent Retreat. The judge in her court case gave her an alternative out instead of jail time, thus the reasoning behind her coming to be in Dr. Prince's care. The retreat resembles a camp with individual cabins for the 4 other occupants who are currently serving their time. Once Janey arrives she meets Dr. Prince in his office where he informs her of the rules which include: "no talking, no phones, no Internet, no music, no reading, no eye contact, no touching". The rules are simple and he states the simplicity of the rules and suggests that she "embrace the silence" to make the treatment run smoothly.
"TO RESPECT THE PROCESS WE KEEP IT QUIET."
Janey moves onto finding her cabin and rifling through the suitcase that had been sort through by the doctor's son who was looking for anything that would distract Janey from conforming to the rules. She was relieved to find that her I-pod had not been found. Feeling that she could at least have some escape by listening to music, she looked relieved that it had not been detected. The loss of a personal item confiscated by the son is felt heavily by Janey as she contemplates the time she will be spending at the retreat.
Later Janey leaves to walk outside of the cabin and runs into the other girls. She innocently asks a question to one of the girls and is met with a wall of silence. She ventures forward to try and ask again and receives no answer. She enters the building where they are to sit down for dinner. The silent girl approaches Dr. Prince and writes a message that results in the loss of dinner for Janey.
"THEY'RE SCARED OF SOMETHING IN THE WOODS."
Nightfall, the girls go to the bath house to shower and prepare for bed and then make the trek back to their cabins. Strange animal noises can be heard, but it is much later that Janey experiences absolute terror, when something from the woods pays her a visit. She can hear the creature right outside her cabin walls and...That is enough; I don't want to give it all away.
I must say, I absolutely loved this film! It is a slow burner but a good one. It takes some time to get a feel for the other girls at the retreat, because there is no communication between them and for the better part of the movie you don't know their names or how long they have been there, but there were a couple of rogue instances with not only Janey but another girl known as "Pink Stripe" (for the pink stripe in her hair) who showed rebellion against the process. Pink Stripe was taken to a room and the next day when she was returned to the group, she was changed. All of the girls are taken to this room, but they don't seem to remember.
"ANIMALS CAN BE TAMED, BUT WOMEN ARE TRICKIER."
The treatment that they are being given is far from simple meditation and reflection exercises, they are being programmed to be submissive to future husbands. Dr. Prince is attempting to turn these reckless and troubled girls into proper subdued women who can go back into society to become man's ideal vision of a proper wife. The type of man who wishes to be the dominate partner in their relationship. Dr. Prince thinks he is making headway with his family run backwoods treatment until Janey and Alexis, another of his long-term patients rises up against him and the process. He claims they have failed and are suffering from paranoia.
This is just part of the story there is another side that deals with WHAT is in the woods. It was briefly touched upon by Prince in an off-the-cuff remark and in his first conversation with Janey he talked about it being important to be silent especially at night. The creature in the woods is sensitive to sound and it is growing more and more aggressive and frequenting the area more. Prince offers up a few more comments and if the viewer is observant, these clues will help them figure out the reason for the close proximity of its night excursions.
"SILENT RETREAT IS AS DISTURBING AS THE STEPFORD WIVES THAT TACKLED SOCIAL ISSUES AND PREJUDICES WITH A SUB-PLOT THAT INCLUDES AN UNKNOWN HELLISH CREATURE OF THE WOODS.TERRIFYING AND BLOODY...I LOVED EVERY FRAME OF IT!" CHAR HARDIN
What I liked about this multi-layered story was the depth it took as the story progressed. It touches on social issues and prejudices as explained by Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf) when she shares her story with Janey. She was looked down on for her unnatural attraction to her girlfriend and for organizing an event that glorified that what the town deemed unfit. Her arrest led her to the retreat. The retreat was a place that was meant to strip away her desires and to take away her voice as well as her choice in how to live her life.
Janey attempted early on to explain that her charges were false and the viewer will learn what really happened which hits upon another social issue, violence against women. These characters with their flaws, strengths and social issues flow and do not become preachy or sound like a public awareness campaign. I just liked how they all tied into the story of one man's issues with women and how Prince's hatred turned into a misogynistic weapon against all women. Plus, on top of all of this is the addition of an unknown creature.
"IT KILLS FOR ME."
The creature of unknown origins was indeed creepy and I liked that you see it in glimpses and in the blurred vision of one of the girls who had lost her glasses in the heat of the moment. The use of light and shadows early on lent to the mystery and begged the question of what it was and where it came from and most importantly, what did it want? If the viewer is patient and listens, all these answers will be revealed and it was at that moment that my feelings towards the creature changed and I felt sorry for it. Even after the creature went on full attack mode and left in its wake death and gore, I felt sorry for it.
This was a young cast with an experienced veteran whose star status rises with each film I see with the wonderful Robert Nolan. I first saw him in the short-film from Fatal Pictures, Worm and became an instant fan. I have since seen him in other shorts, features both suspense and comedy. When he takes on the persona of an new character, the viewer is in for a outstanding performance as he shines. He has never disappointed this reviewer, nor did he in Silent Retreat. Nolan led these girls into a nightmare that comes back and takes a bite out of him as his screams pierce the night. He was my favorite character with the creature coming in as my second.
"WHY WE SCREAM...TO LET THE WORLD KNOW WE ARE STILL HERE AND THAT WE HAVEN'T GIVEN UP."Chelsea Jenish as Janey did a remarkable performance of a misunderstood orphan who in a particularly riveting scene finds her voice and pours her heart into the screams that would set her soul free. She could not embrace the silence but she embraced the savage need to let go and it brought tears to my eyes.
Sofia Banzhaf as Alexis was another strong character that fools the doctor and his oldest son. She embraced the silence until it brought her a way out and this viewer enjoyed immensely the prank she played at dinner time early in the story. As I said this is a slow burner and could have gone in a bad direction but the pacing is perfectly balanced as the stories come out at the appropriate time the viewer gains deeper understanding as to how and why she was at the retreat. In the beginning it was easy to overlook this character by the middle it was not possible.
For a low budget film, Silent Retreat packed quite a punch. It was violent and bloody, but the one thing that was missing from the typical slasher film was nudity. A bare back was the extent of it and as female horror fan/reviewer I was surprised and pleased to enjoy the film without the nudity. It was not needed and not just added for the sake of filling in some typical formula.
The practical effects were refreshing with a creature that was played by multiple people. I will not describe it, because this film needs to be seen to be appreciated what this crew accomplished in its creature. Suffice to say it was creepy and different and was an intricate part of this story.
The kill scenes were brutal and the blood was RED and shiny, not dark and murky. When bodies were ripped the splat of the blood matter looked good and sounded even better. As a gore lover, I appreciated seeing a creature and blood that was not created by CGI.
This was another film I watched on my big screen computer and listened using my headset and the sounds were awesome with this film. From the sounds in the woods surrounding the retreat, the creature and the music, everything worked beautifully together.
With all the love I can put into a review there was really one complaint. I felt at times that the music was overly loud. As for the score, I enjoyed the music and felt it blended well into the scenic setting which was in beautiful Ontario.
My overall experience in viewing Silent Retreat has been a positive experience with my one regret that I am unable to see it on the silver screen. It is currently on the festival circuit and recently won an award at the 2013 Toronto's After Dark Film Festival for audience Favorite Canadian Feature. Congratulations to director Tricia Lee, writer Corey Brown and to the cast and crew on winning. So it has come to that part in the review where I either recommend or say to pass on a film. I would definitely recommend anyone to see Silent Retreat and those on the festival circuit, give it a chance. This is a low budget Indie film that was well made with an excellent cast and effects team with one creepy night creature. Think twice about going into the woods at night in Canada...there will be a bloody end. 4 Out of 5.
I have read the others who reviewed this film and some agree with me and others not. I will put it to you out there who may be faced with a choice or chance at seeing this film, if after reading our reviews, you are on the fence about it...see it for yourself. For those of you who read my reviews regularly, you know, I love low-budget indie horror and I wouldn't steer you wrong. There have been times I was right and times I was off a little, but I am telling you now, a film has to have something special to get me to watch it more than 7 times in a week. The whole time I worked on this review, I was working on my 8th viewing.I loved it!
Tricia Lee, I can't tell you enough how much I enjoyed your film. You creeped me out, made me care about your characters and your creature. I cried and screamed and stood up and applauded at the end. You have my attention, I cannot wait to see more from you in the future. Thank you once again for the opportunity to review, Silent Retreat.
Special thank you to actor Robert Nolan for referring me to Tricia Lee. I appreciated your thoughtfulness and quite enjoyed your wicked performance.
Silent Retreat Website for up-to-date information on the film
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Silent Retreat IMDb Page