Writer/director Bruce Wemple’s The Retreat tries really hard to transcend its genre trappings of psychological thriller and horror. But it only ends up violently oscillating between the two, resulting in a needlessly convoluted manifestation of a half-baked artistic vision. Although it was probably not intended as such, the film’s attempt to masquerade as horror metamorphoses into meta-humor.
The foundation of the narrative is built upon the North American mythological figure of Wendigo, a menacing spirit who pushes humans into the abyss of insanity. The primary thrust of the plot is not the monster itself but the phenomenon responsible for Wendigo psychosis: a condition that shatters the binaries of nature and culture, urging humans to indulge in primal urges like murder and cannibalism. On paper, this seems like an interesting premise and one worth exploring, but the filmmaker never really manages to focus on either the monster or the humans.
“…Gus begins a slow descent into homicidal madness as the Wendigo lurks in the ominous woods.”
Structured in the form of a quasi-hallucinogenic vision, The Retreat employs a non-linear narrative to its fragmented examinations of the nature of reality. For Adam’s (Dylan Grunn) bachelor party, Gus (Grant Schumacher) takes his friend on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks in New York. Instead of the fun adventure they were expecting, Gus begins a slow descent into homicidal madness as the Wendigo lurks in the ominous woods.
The Retreat starts by acknowledging the mundane clichés of the genre: ominous music randomly playing in the background, forced jump scares which do nothing to subvert voyeuristic expectations, as well as some truly atrocious writing. Initially, you try to convince yourself that the terrible acting and the on-the-nose dialogue add to the surreal atmosphere, but the redeeming moment never comes. As the story progresses, you realize that it is just unintentionally spoofing itself. The editing is as experimental as an overdue school project, blurring the lines between avant-garde and careless. There is one segment where two dissolves are separated by three seconds with a meaningless interlude of the two friends walking through the forest; it feels like an afterthought. Sadly, the same term applies to a lot of the movie.
"…shatters the binaries of nature and culture..."