The Retreat

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Retreat
"Wemple's command of a range of distinctive cinematic styles changes the tone between different sections of the narrative nicely."

The end of a long relationship is a precarious time. Sometimes it can be an opportunity for growth and learning more about oneself, but at other times - especially if it has been the centre of one's life and one has few people around to help pick up the pieces - it can be seriously disorientating, prompting one to question key aspects of one's own identity. That's one thing when the relationship was a romantic one, because most people understand the feelings involved and are quick to sympathise. It can be harder to find support when parting ways with a best friend.

Adam (Dylan Grunn) is about to get married. Gus (Grant Schumacher) understands this; he likes Adam's fiancée and they get along. It will mean, however, that Adam moves away. In the future, they'll barely sees each other, though their lives have revolved around one another for years. Gus, though clearly hurting, doesn't want to be a dick about it. He decides that they should have one last great experience together, and that it should be whatever Adam wants. So off they go to the Adirondack High Peaks to spend a few days hiking. On the first night out among the trees, they make camp, build a fire, eat some food, take some hallucinogens. Then something happens and just when he is at his most vulnerable, struggling to distinguish between imagination and reality, Gus has to face the awful possibility that he has killed his best friend.

North America has seen relatively few ancient monsters adopted into the folklore of its ethnically European inhabitants. Some Native people are uncomfortable with their use of the wendigo in stories and films because, as the local guest house owner points out here, it's not the monster itself that's dangerous so much as the idea of it. It's this idea that director Bruce Wemple is interested in. There are - or at least appear to be - corporeal monsters, but they are simply presented and don't have a big part to play in most of the narrative. The focus, instead, is in Gus' experience. Viewers are only admitted to this world through his point of view.

Uncertainty about what's real and what's not can often leave viewers feeling cold, unsure what they should invest their emotions in. Wemple presents us with s psychiatrist, ostensibly interviewing Gus after he has left the woods, who repeatedly insists that what's real doesn't matter - that what Gus needs to ficus on is the decision he must make or have made. This raises multiple questions. Is Gus himself dying? How significant is the presence or influence of the wendigo, real or not? Did Gus harbour an inner desire to kill his friend all along, perhaps inspired by anger at him for leaving? Is such anger inevitably as aspect of (any kind of) love? These are questions that you may not wish to ponder for too long. Ideas can be dangerous.

It's difficult to strike the right balance with a film like this. There are places where Wemple has bitten off more than he can chew, places where the film is unhelpfully tangled or simply too slow. Overall, however, his boldness pays off. Particularly effective is the use of paintings, photographs and other artistic motifs associated with the wendigo - also forbidden in some traditions. They add a disturbing element that will stay with you when the action is over.

Wemple's command of a range of distinctive cinematic styles changes the tone between different sections of the narrative nicely. There are also some upbeat tunes to put it all in perspective and inspire smiles at the end. It is, after all, just a story...

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2020
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A hiking trip goes awry, leaving a man who was warned about the wendigo fighting for his sanity.

Director: Bruce Wemple

Writer: Bruce Wemple

Starring: Grant Schumacher, Dylan Grunn, Chris Cimperman, Rick Montgomery Jr, Peter stray, Ariella Mastroianni

Year: 2020

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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