Six members of a small division in a company head out to the woods for a mandatory retreat. The goal: to bring the team together and help strategize for the upcoming quarter. It all seems well and good until people start disappearing. With each person that goes missing, more secrets are uncovered at this mysterious and terrifying lodge.
“Silent Retreat” is the feature-film debut from Ace Jordan — and young man who captured a lot of attention from the indie horror crowd with his short film, “Kill Devil Hill”. I haven’t seen aforementioned short, but it seemed to have been acknowledged and well received by critics and crowds alike. Naturally, I wanted to see what he did for his first feature which ultimately left me on the fence as to whether I thought it was good or not.
A media company has put together a mandatory retreat for the six members who are part of a smaller division within the company. The goal is to hope that the team comes together, stronger than ever, and to help them plan out their upcoming quarter in an attempt to improve their numbers. As the days go on, the members of the retreat begin to uncover the dark secrets of the lodge and what it use to be. It isn’t before long that people start disappearing and the surviving members have to solve the mystery of the lodge and its past if they hope to escape.
The familiarity of the plot to “Silent Retreat” is undeniable. Simply reading the plot description, it’s easy enough figure out the formula and how the whole thing is going to play out. It’s something that’s not necessarily good or bad. Really, what makes that decision is how the story is told. And while the plot reads similarly to many other horror movies, “Silent Retreat” executes the story well enough to a degree that you can look past its short comings. In part, thanks to a solid cast and a rather sharp production quality.
Where the movie falls short is that it doesn’t do more. I’ve said it before with other movies, but this is another one of those movies that does just enough to get by. Which ultimately becomes its biggest detriment. There are a number of technical issues and small details where the movie starts to fall apart, which I attribute to causing my lack of interest and investment in regards to what was happening on screen. At the time, I passively enjoyed watching the movie play out but in retrospect, there were a number of moments that made me realize that the film relies heavily on coincidences: It’s a coincidence that these particular characters came together in this one company and end up at this location. It’s a coincidence that the cabin that they’re staying at is a renovated hospital ward yet they happen to find the only records of a patient that relates to this story.
Again, at the time, it’s not something that will throw off your viewing experience but something that starts to cause the movie to unravel at the seams. There are other little flaws in the details that cause further unraveling, like when a group of characters enter a cabin in search of a missing person. They’re quick to react to a door being locked (on the inside) to a room, but remain casual about it, then react to “blood and shit” being on the floor, only to then casually leave the cabin while expressing concern. The character’s actions are questionable and, strangely, it almost seemed as though the scenes were out of order. At the very least, it would seem like they would responds first to the blood and then the locked door, but I digress.
As odd as it is, even with these issues, I didn’t find the movie to be bad — still don’t, actually — and was generally fine while watching it. Most of the problems that I found with the movie came after it was over and reflection turned into nitpicking. What I feel hurt the movie the most was the complete lack of an atmosphere. I liked that Ace Jordan and his team tried to go a different route with the movie and focus more on the mystery of the retreat, rather than blood and violence. The problem is it felt like there needed to be something more to it to keep me, as a viewer, invested in the movie. There’s no atmosphere and there’s no tension. At no point does “Silent Retreat” hook me — something to drive my interest in finding out the truth. It, unfortunately, becomes a dry viewing experience and as a result I watched the movie more from a passive stance. I just waited for the characters and the story to go down their predictable paths.
I know that sounds horribly negative (it’s certainly not a compliment, to say the least) but as I said before, I genuinely did not find “Silent Retreat” to be a bad movie. I didn’t disliked it while I watched it and don’t dislike it now. There were a number of things that were done well; the movie looked great, it had a good location, and the cast was solid. The actors that were chosen may have been what I liked most about it since all of them brought something to the movie and helped to make the characters worthwhile. What kept me from enjoying “Silent Retreat” is that it needed to do something more — it needed something to give it that extra push to get the viewer involved with the story. Instead, at the end of the day, “Silent Retreat” was just an average movie. For every pro there is a con. Still though, it’s hard to deny that there was competency behind the camera — and in front, by the actors — so it’s still something I think people should give a shot if they have the opportunity to watch it. Who knows, it could play better for you than it did for me.