Janey is sent to a silent meditation retreat, in the woods, for rehabilitation, only to realize that the men who run it are brainwashing women, and if she breaks the rules, she’ll discover what lurks beyond the trees.
Janey (Chelsea Janish) is court ordered to attend a rehabilitation retreat as an alternative to jail time for her crimes. The shady retreat, overseen by the equally shady doctor (played menacingly well by Robert Nolan), is a modest affair, catering to only a small number of woman at a time. The doctor has strict rules in place for the woman, no reading, no music, no phones, no electronics, and also a vow of enforced silence; the woman can’t even utter a peep without being reprimanded.
With her days spent meditating and eating in complete silence, the rules obviously don’t sit well with Janey, but she learns that those who oppose are quickly turned after a visit to a special cabin, or “released”, never to be heard, or seen, again…
As chunks of time seem to slip by, Janey befriends another “customer” of the retreat, Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf) who also has a desire to get the f#ck out of there and together they uncover the real intention of the retreat and the horrifying truth of what’s lurking in the woods.
While its plot is undoubtedly intriguing on paper, on film Silent Retreat is a slow burning candle that relies heavily on your ability to hold your interest until any real mystery, character depth, or actual story develops, which is at around 45 minutes into its foray. The preceding runtime meanders along with minimal dialog (obviously) and low-level intrigue which (to me) couldn’t carry the film. The lack of dialog comes at the cost of character development so you learn painfully little about our protagonist and nothing about the other guests (until the 45 minutes), relying on your guttural disdain for authority and Patriarchy to side with Janey. Once we hit 45 minutes, character development is forced via monologues of exposition and the whole mystery is revealed— sorry, crammed into the remaining runtime in-between some gory horror and an attempt to tug on our emotional heart strings which falls pretty flat due to the lack of character development.
The monster in the woods was an evolutionary fail in every sense of the word. Blind and presumably unable to smell since it couldn’t detect people right in front of it, the monster used sound to find its victims and even then the sounds the people had to make needed to be quite audible as even breathing was undetected by the monster when it was RIGHT IN FRONT OF A PERSON. This was conveniently forgotten at the very end of the film, when all these rules were disregarded and the monster detected our protagonist even though she was quiet and still, the very same thing she did no more than five minutes earlier and got away with. Such a letdown.
Ultimately the problem with Silent Retreat is that it felt like two separate films crammed together. The link between the doctor/retreat and the monster in the woods is coincidental rather than causal so the horror felt tacked on to the film, simply there to falsify drama and scares, ultimately serving only to carry a film which runs out of steam very quickly with its A story.
The societal and political themes at play in Silent Retreat will give those who care (or pretend to) about that stuff some fodder for their discussions with their friends at their nearest Starbucks. To the film’s credit, it never preaches but rather uses them complimentary to the story so you never feel like you’ve accidentally walked into a feminist rally.
Acting was solid throughout with no one standing out as overly amateurish. Even new-comer Chelsea Janish was able to convey the emotions required though she was a little flat. Sofia and Robert were both great in their roles, with Robert oozing creepiness every time he graced the screen.
Cinematography was stock standard with nothing to write home about. It serviced the film well and felt professional. Some of the sound used once the horror started was a little over the top but overall sound was acceptable also.
Would I watch it again? No. For me there isn’t enough to make me want to revisit Silent Retreat though it is a competent indie horror film that neither raises the bar nor limbos it.
Would I recommend it? I wouldn’t rush out to put this in your play list, but if you come across it in your travels, you could do a lot worse than to give Silent Retreat a viewing.
2 out of 5 Eerie doctors