The Retreat (2021) poster

The Retreat (2021)


Canada. 2021.


Director – Pat Mills, Screenplay – Alyson M. Richards, Producers – Lauren Grant & Alyson M. Richards, Photography – David Schuurman, Music – Steph Copeland, Visual Effects – Jack Feore, Makeup Effects – Karlee Morse, Production Design – Lucas Gentilcore. Production Company – Aqute Media/Stolen Lines/Clique Pictures.


Tommie Amber-Pirie (Renee), Sarah Allen (Valerie), Rossif Sutherland (Gavin), Aaron Ashmore (James), Celina Sinden (Layna), Munro Chambers (Scott), Chad James Connell (Connor)


Girlfriends Renee and Valerie head into the countryside for a wedding planning retreat held at a gay B&B by their friends Scott and Connor. They arrive to find their friends slaughtered. They are then hunted through the woods by a group of local rednecks and captured to be used as victims in a series of snuff internet videos.

The Retreat was the third film for Canadian director Pat Mills who had previously made the comedies Guidance (2014) and Don’t Talk to Irene (2017), both non-genre works.

The Backwoods Brutality film was a product of the 1970s horror genre. This was an era when the Free Love rebellion of the hippies had exploded all around the world before collapsing into Charles Manson and the events of Kent State and society was reeling in the aftermath. We saw the films of the era reflecting this, showing youth being brutalised by the vicious in-bred hillbillies that lurked in the boondocks of America in films like The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) – and slightly different groups under attack in Straw Dogs (1971) and Deliverance (1972).

The Retreat is a Woke era Backwoods Brutality film. In the 1970s, the protagonists would be the two innocent girls on the way to a concert waylaid by sadistic criminals in The Last House on the Left or the group of hippie friends on a road trip in Texas Chain Saw. Here they have been replaced by a lesbian couple (Tommie Amber-Pirie and Sarah Allen) on their way to a marriage planning retreat at a gay B&B. The in-bred hillbillies and cannibals of these films have been replaced by rednecks desiring to torture and kill them to make Snuff Movies to upload to the internet.

Woke era politics very much supports strong positive portrayals of gay characters and the promotion of gay characters in leading roles. I don’t want to say anything here to suggest this is not a viewpoint I support either. On the other hand, I do wish to criticise the way The Retreat presents this. The film creates a series of black-and-white divides that turn it into a misandrist film. We are given a lesbian couple as protagonists. In the prologue, we also see a gay male couple, one of whom later turns up and is killed in a snuff video. These are the characters we are meant to sympathise with and see as the victims hunted by the rednecks.

Valerie (Sarah Allen) and Renee (Tommie Amber-Pirie)  in The Retreat (2021)
Girlfriends – (l to r) Valerie (Sarah Allen) and Renee (Tommie Amber-Pirie) hunted by rednecks

On the other side of the coin, the rednecks essentially embody everything this is undesirable about men. Rossif Sutherland (one of Donald Sutherland’s sons) plays a convenience store owner as obesely fat with the bottom of his gut hanging out from under his t-shirt. His store stocks crass bumper stickers with legends “take your ex out tonight – one bullet oughtta do it”, “boob inspection 200 feet ahead (have them out)” – of all the items in the store, these are the only two that the camera stops to focus on so the two girls can express their disgust. Aaron Ashmore also enters the scene as a smoothly dressed ladykiller who comes onto Sarah Allen with a bunch of pick-up lines and then appears miffed when she displays no interest and walks off with Tommie Amber-Pirie.

In other words, the film fairly much operates along the lines of gay people are good/straight men are evil. There is only one women among the group of killers with Celina Sinden as Rossif Sutherland’s wife so in effect you could say that it is just as equally a work about gay couples facing off against toxic heterosexuality. There are no other characters in the film apart from the man who stops to offer the girls a ride at the end (and even he is treated to a glare of suspicion). It is the lack of equal balance to the equation that makes the film seems a bizarrely polarised one that casts the sexual divide as one that seems engaged in a malevolent war. You also cannot help but think that if this were made in the 1970s the premise of lesbians hunted by rednecks would make it an exploitation classic; bizarrely enough today, it becomes a positive representation of gay women.

Outside of its politics, the film is competently made but an unremarkable example of Backwoods Brutality. Plotwise, it never does anything more than traipse through the familiar tropes of the genre. The payoffs are relatively tepid for the most part, although gain a certain bloody brutalism when Tommie Amber-Pirie starts to fight back.

Trailer here

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