Written by Alyson Richards and directed by Pat Mills, The Retreat is more than just your run-of-the-mill slasher. The plot centres on a lesbian couple with a troubled relationship during a rural getaway. This bond of sapphic love is put to the test as the couple are hounded and hunted by a group of radically homophobic countryside killers.
On the surface, it is easy to dismiss the film as yet another low-budget horror flick. Nevertheless, The Retreat delves into some real life fears and anxieties LGBTQ+ people face outside of our safe spaces. For Valerie (Sarah Allen) and Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie), their safe space ceases to exist quickly once they get in their car and drive away from the big gay city.
The friction in their relationship is established with haste and through an all-too-relatable encounter involving a man at a gas station. The couple stop for gas and a man attempts to hit on Valerie, an awkward encounter cut short when Val states she has a girlfriend. This causes an intense and angry reaction from Renee, who is uncomfortable with random men being made aware of their sexuality. It is small moments like these that confirm this is a horror film for gays by gays.
Real and genuine representation can be hard to come by, even with a token gay thrown in for fun by a mega-corps every so often. This is what makes The Retreat such a refreshing experience. The horror genre is no stranger to exploring topics often considered ‘taboo’ by Hollywood’s standards. The GLAAD Report from 2020 found that in 2019, LGBTQ+ representation across the major film studios increased merely 0.4% (18.6% overall, 22 out of 118 films), with a decrease in lesbian and bisexual representation. The Retreat offers up a ruthless grisly lesbian experience, ensuring the scenes of violence and brutality punish the homophobes, not the homosexuals. This is the type of representation we deserve to see far more often.
The trails and tribulations of Valerie and Renee do not stop there as they arrive at a gay-friendly AirBnB, only to find their hosts missing and Val’s friends nowhere to be seen. This is where The Retreat truly kicks off its boots, running full steam ahead branding an axe and a pride flag for the rest of its 82 minute run time. Renee and Valerie are put to the test physically and emotionally as they are kidnapped, tortured and punished by none other than the man at the gas station, and his aggressively heterosexual gang of gun-wielding idiots.
Both protagonists are easy to root for, as they fight for their lives against their literal oppressors. The Retreat works best as a ‘fuck you’ to the Bury Your Gays trope, reframing how lesbian and bisexual characters are so often disposable in their own stories. Although, as it attempts to reassert queer women within the horror genre, it so does with disregard for the gay men that feature in the film, using their deaths to establish motive rather than make any blunt commentary.
That said, witnessing both women overcome their relationship troubles and work together to wreak havoc on any homophobes in their path makes up for the clunky writing, diluted message and stiff character development. Rife with potential, loudly and proudly proclaiming its message, The Retreat is an excellent example of what can be portrayed when queer people tell our own stories. With a bit of luck it is a sign of more gruesomely gay things to come.
The Retreat is available in select US cinemas and on VOD now
by Kelsie Dickinson