In the first of the two world premieres at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Silent Retreat follows a girl named Janey (Chelsea Jenish), who is sentenced to spend time in a silent meditation retreat. Under the guidance of the head doctor (Robert Nolan) and his two sons, Janey and the other girls are forbidden to say a word. It quickly becomes apparent that something is not right, since the girls who disobey are taken away to a cabin and return more submissive. In addition, there are sounds heard of something that lurks in the nearby woods. Janey befriends a fellow girl named Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf) and together they plan to make an escape from this retreat.
If there is one positive thing I can say about Silent Retreat, I will say that it is a well-made film. Since the film is a relatively low-budget Canadian production, it can be excused if the film looks a little rough or takes shortcuts to avoid filming shots that would be too extensive to do. That said, I was not the most crazy about the actual plot of the film, which did not seem to have a clear sense of direction. Much of of the plot is spent with Janey and Alexis trying to uncover the secrets of the retreat. It is fairly obvious from the start that the Doctor has ulterior motives and that everything at the retreat isn’t what it seems.
While that alone probably would have been suitable for the film, Silent Retreat is also trying to be a creature feature. A creature in to woods is alluded to for much of the film and finally surfaces during the third act. I don’t know if it’s merely a coincidence, but the creature in the film had a striking similarity to the creatures in The Decent, in both its look and how it is attracted to noise. While the creature’s sensitivity to sound does go with Silent Retreat’s overall theme, its inclusion did not really seem all that necessary and almost seemed like an excuse to add a whole lot of gory carnage to the film’s climax.
Another theme that emerges in Silent Treat is that it is almost a feminist horror film. The Doctor has a very narrow view of gender roles and his stated objective is to have the girls “raise families as nature intended them to.” As such, Janie standing up to this blatant sexism can be seen as a feminist allegory. In some ways, I wish the film developed that angle a bit more, since forcing women to meet gender stereotypes is definitely a lot more disturbing in this day and age than merely resorting to a gorefest.
Like I said, Silent Retreat is well-made film and is perfectly watchable, but with the plot inconsistencies, I cannot give it my full recommendation.6 | WATCHABLE