Take The Retreat (2021) and Enjoy This Backwoods LGBTQ Horror
Title: The Retreat
First Non-Festival Release: May 21, 2021 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Pat Mills
Writer: Alyson Richards
Runtime: 82 Minutes
Starring: Tommie-Amber Pirie, Sarah Allen, Rossif Sutherland
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and Valerie (Sarah Allen) have been dating for a while and things are starting to get serious. Valerie has invited Renee to celebrate the engagement of her college friends with the booking of a quaint queer owned Airbnb in the country. When Renee and Valerie arrive, however, there is no sign of her friends. Assuming they must be out, the pair decide to have a quick picnic until they feel the eyes of someone watching their every move. They realize that something sinister is afoot and start discussing ideas of leaving only to find that their chance to get out may have passed.
A thrilling and cathartic subversion of the ‘bury your gays’ trope, The Retreat provides satisfactory scares in a familiar setup.
Much of the events of The Retreat are familiar to audiences who have seen any number of backwoods horror films in the past years. The subversion here comes solely at switching up the identities of those attacked. Beyond this, the breakdown of the sequence of events changes the action as well. About thirty minutes into the movie there is this moment where the audience might mistake that the movie ends before picking right back up a few moments later. Quick paced with no desire to meander around its central premise, this thrilling little indie charmer gets down to business with no apologies.
Leads Tommie-Amber Pirie and Sarah Allen are believable enough playing their different shades of strong-willed and battle ready women. Neither outshines the other which makes for a nice, shared governance of the “final girl” archetype. Some of the dialogue, however, feels forced, especially between the two leads. Their relationship is strained since it is fresh, so it makes sense that their interactions are awkward. It can take the viewer out of the experience though. Their characters also get little development beyond their strained relationship and upbringings. Regardless, both Renee and Valerie are easy to root for despite their lack of development and any victories against their tormentors are easily celebrated.
Beyond the decision to center LGBTQ protagonists, The Retreat does what it can to give the film a special edge despite its setup. While the antagonists take form of the stereotypical Christian, conservative rednecks, the way The Retreat explores this dynamic feels fresh. Framing the violence through digital voyeurs taking part in the scheme draws parallels to current fears revolving around online bad actors. LGBTQ people are already subject to online harassment campaigns, so watching those next steps materialize in this manner makes those fears more founded.
Director Pat Mills helms the project with confidence and care. The decision to intentionally subvert the ‘bury your gay’ trope and not show onscreen violence towards the community, is refreshing in a genre that continually neglects these types of characters. Renee and Valerie may not be in control of the situation they are in at all times, but they are in control of their narrative, which is great to see. Much of this can also be attributed to screenwriter Alyson Richards as well. Her commitment to continuing the action without relying on these tropes is evident.
While The Retreat might not be setting the world on fire, it is a solid addition in the explicitly queer horror subgenre. The leads are easy to root for, the villains are decidedly destructive, and the set pieces make for great scares and suspense. The extent at which plot armor protects the main duo from deadly situations may get on viewer’s nerves, but that’s one trope that is common across many horror films, so it is hard to make a case that The Retreat is uniquely egregious on this front. If you are looking for a nice slice of survival horror for an easy weekend watch, you might want to go on The Retreat.
Overall Score? 6.5/10