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One of the classic tropes of the horror film is the cabin in the woods. A lot of iconic films have used this low-cost setting to unleash terror and mayhem on their victims: Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead, Cabin Fever, and of course, Cabin in The Woods, to name but a few. Tricia Lee’s film Silent Retreat uses the cabin trope to set up an interesting general premise. In this film the cabins function as a private prison camp with the goal of reforming young women. This is a bit of a new take on the genre, unfortunately that’s about all that rises above average in this film.

We join Janey (Chelsea Jenish) as she is ushered in to the office of camp director The Doctor (Robert Nolan), an over-the-top cartoonish Bond villain, who explains that the only rule in the camp is that inmates are not allowed to speak. He emphatically reinforces this point and tries to convince Janey that silence is the route to reformation. After this meeting Janey wanders through the camp and meets the other inmates. It doesn’t take her long to break the only rule and utter a few words. She is swiftly reprimanded.  Janey spends some time in group meditation with the other inmates only to discover that they are being taken away one at a time to a secret cabin for private sessions. During a nighttime escape attempt, Janey discovers that the guards are terrified of an unseen creature that stalks the woods.

One of the main issues with the film is that it doesn’t commit to its own conceit. The amount of stress that The Doctor puts on the rule of silence at the beginning of the film suggests that there would be some major consequences to breaking the rule. Janey ignores this rule almost immediately, and continuously throughout the course of the film. The result is a lack of tension and too much reliance on conventions.

When the creatures are introduced, their appearance feels superficial. The make-up effects and gore are both well executed, but with no real history to these creatures it all feels a bit empty. The technical aspects of the filmmaking are well executed. The music specifically adds a lot to the overall feel of the film. The cinematography is utilitarian and opportunistic, but doesn’t add much atmosphere.

Is Silent Retreat essential Toronto After Dark viewing?

Sophie Banzhaf delivers a fine performance as the veteran inmate with the escape plan, but this retreat is a fairly average outing. Watch it with a group and you can have some fun with it (say, at a festival), but overall it’s best to wait for this one on DVD.

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