Directed by Bruce Wemple
Last night, my friend Josh texted me about a movie he was about to watch, called The Retreat. The movie is about two friends who go camping in the Adirondacks and stay at a lean to in the winter. While there, they are stalked by a terrifying creature with glowing amber eyes: the Wendigo. Sound familiar? So yeah, with nothing else going on last night, I decided to give it a whirl with Josh. Minor spoilers ahead.
The Wendigo Legend
For those not in the know, the Wendigo is a mythological creature and/or evil spirit found in Algonquin folklore. A mainstay of the tribes in the northeast and Great Lakes regions, the Wendigo is portrayed to be quite a malevolent spirit. It is humanoid in shape with gaunt, emaciated features, allegedly because it is starving and needs to feed on human blood. The Wendigo’s curse was that every time it fed, it would grow larger, thus never sating its appetite. It’s often depicted as a giant human-like figure, but with the head of a deer skeleton and antlers, with glowing yellow eyes. Some legends said Wendigos were created when a normal human being resorted to cannibalism. The eating of human flesh is intricately tied to the Wendigo mythos.
The Retreat starts off with a simple premise. Best buds Gus and Adam decide to take a 4-day camping trip to the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. The trip serves as a bachelor party of sorts to Adam, who is marrying his fiancée Amy in two weeks. Adam is a High Peaks 46er, and only has a few peaks left to complete his goal of climbing all 46. Their plan is to stay at an AirBnB cabin before hiking to their lean to. While staying at the cabin, Gus and Adam meet their host, Marty, and another hiker, Ryan. While Ryan is an experienced hiker, he’s also really into drugs and hallucinogens. Fun-loving and carefree Gus buys some Ayahuasca tea from Ryan for himself and straight-laced Adam to imbibe on the trip. Never a good idea.
After a cold, snowy hike to their lean to, the friends build a fire, and Gus breaks out the Ayahuasca. Adam takes a small sip, while Gus drinks about a gallon of the stuff. They sit around the campfire, hallucinate a bit, and then argue about Adam’s impending wedding. They decide to drop it, and go to bed. Gus wakes up in the middle of the night, hearing something moving around their camp. He gets up to investigate (by himself, of course) and is immediately attacked by a weird-looking creature. They fight, Gus stabs and kills it, and then he…goes back to bed. When he wakes up, he realizes Adam is not there. He heads out to investigate, and discovers that he actually killed Adam, not a Wendigo. Drugs are bad, mmmkay?
Distraught, with other hikers passing close by and still probably quite high, Gus hides his friend’s body. He retreats from the lean to, and finds an abandoned cabin in the woods. Here, his mental state really starts breaking down. He starts talking to himself, and the severity of what he’s done really starts to hit him. From here, the movie starts to move between reality and hallucinations, and Gus has a very hard time discerning which is which. And so did I.
One of my pet peeves in horror films like this is the overuse of twists. I mean, I love a good twist as much as the next guy. But when used over and over and over and over, it starts to feel less like creativity and more like you’re being jerked around. It’s hard to stay invested – or interested – when the rug keeps getting pulled out from under you. And with The Retreat, at a certain point, I just stopped caring. The film bounced back and forth between reality and hallucination way too often. “Oh, wait, this isn’t reality, it’s hallucination! Oh wait, this hallucination is now reality! Or is it? Nope it’s not! Or maybe it is? Huh?” Sigh…
The acting isn’t bad here. I’ve watched a bunch of horror movies from Uncork’d Entertainment, which distributed this film and tons of other horror flicks. And this one is a bit better than their average offering. Grant Schumacher does a solid job at portraying Gus and his descent into madness. He pretty much carries the film, as the other main character is dead or offscreen for most of the movie. Sadly, the other supporting actors come off as a bit corny and cheesy, especially drug-addled Ryan and the psychologist who may or may not be a figment of Gus’ imagination. He in particular is laughably cartoonish and over-the-top. It’s a bit jarring.
The creatures are…kind of silly. Just men in padded white costumes really, and they crawl around in the snow, and just don’t really look scary. They look a little better when close-up, but overall, they feel quite generic. Far more effective was the use of the amber eyes, peering from the woods. It’s more realistic, mainly because lots of creatures in the woods will have eyeshine at night, and because sometimes less is more. As someone who has camped in the Adirondacks in all seasons, seeing eyeshine in the woods at night is a freaky thing, even when it’s just a racoon or deer.
The Retreat is not the worst way to spend 90 minutes. The scenery is spooky and atmospheric, and eerily reminiscent of actual trips I’ve taken, most notably my winter camping trip with Josh to the John Pond lean to. While it starts off as a creepy monster flick, it spirals out of control quickly, and becomes a trippy yet confusing mess. The ending is predictable and formulaic, and I really wish there was more Wendigo to the movie, rather than drugs and slight of hand. But overall, not a bad little scary movie to put on when you have the time.