Lunatic's Serenade

Silent Retreat (2013)

Directed by Tricia Lee Kalpakis
Written by Corey Brown

It’s been a while since I have seen a Canadian made horror film that I really flipped out over. Looking back, I would say Ginger Snaps captivated my imagination and more recently American Mary, but the newest contender in town is a film called Silent Retreat directed by local film maker Tricia Lee Kalpakis.

Before we get into the specifics of the film, let me give you a little background on the movie. Silent Retreat debuted last fall as a part of the popular After Dark film festival where it won best Canadian Feature. Now armed with that honor, the film is getting a small theatrical run with selected dates all across Canada and it should help to raise the director’s profile with this smartly written and well executed creature feature.

The film begins with troubled teen Janey (played by Chelsea Jenish) who by court order is being sent to a rehabilitation centre deep in the woods. The gimmick here is that the place is a silent retreat where no talking is allowed and all the girls are forced into meditation lead by the creepy Dr. Prince. Veteran character actor Robert Nolan plays the good Doctor, coming across with subtle creepiness in the beginning, while maintaining order with his two (nearly faceless) sons. Unfortunately, Janey’s arrival signals a resurgence of disobedience with the other girls in the camp and it quickly escalates into a “us vs. them” scenario.

Worse yet, we learn about Dr. Prince’s nefarious plans to brainwash all the girls into becoming submissive housewives – ALA The Stepford Wives, by use of some Clockwork Orange inspired techniques. Luckily Janey becomes wise to the foul plot and with the help of Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf), the pair fight back – only to discover another monkey-wrench thrown into the plans – a strange impish/feral creature in the woods, seemingly in cahoots with the Doctor and his kin.

I won’t give away much more than that, but the compelling set-up is riveting, allowing all the converging plot-points to coalesce into a satisfying climax that will leave you blitzed. This is also billed as a creature feature and yet there is so much more going on, compliments of screenwriter Corey Brown and Tricia Lee. The backdrop of gender politics anchors the film quite nicely, firmly rooting everything into an X-Files type premise, once the creature-in-the-woods plot unfolds. When we finally get a glimpse of what the monster wants, the engrossing nature of what is intended with the girls and their fates kicks everything into high gear.

"...a very satisfying film and one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience."

Ultimately, Silent Retreat is a smartly written film and it’s easy to find one becoming emotionally invested in the plights of both Janey and Alexis. The stark quality of the woods looms ever so menacingly, bringing to mind another excellent horror/survivalist film - The Descent. Much like Neil Marshall Smith’s film, Tricia Lee provides that same punch to the gut forcing the viewer to experience emotional upheaval, while watching the characters survive a horrendous assault of both man and monster.

With this being her second feature, Lee’s direction is taut and mean-spirited at times, but done so to elicit that feeling of uneasiness. The male characters serve one purpose to dominate and subvert all the female characters, while pushing the boundaries and commenting on the role of the fair sex. To her credit, Lee manages to keep her female characters strong and I admire this aspect of Silent Retreat. The continual struggles for freedom and evading the creature from the woods makes this a very satisfying film and one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

We normally give a rating for our music reviews, but if I was to give a rating for this film it would be a strong nine skulls out of ten. So I urge all horror fans to go out and catch this engaging and engrossing film, before the brief theatrical runs ends. You won’t be disappointed.

For more about Tricia Lee Kalpakis, check out her website and the official website for the film.

Kenneth Gallant, Editor-In-Chief HMS

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