An isolated set of cabins deep in some creepy woods sounds like a fine place to send a group of troubled young women to work off jail time under the strict supervision of a shadowy man known only as the Doctor.
Canadian director Tricia Lee’s horror Silent Retreat sets up Corey Brown’s story with promise with an opening scene of a panicked woman tied to a tree in the dark woods.
A quick jump ahead and we’re with sweet-tempered Janey (Chelsea Jenish) as she arrives at a gloomy meditation retreat deep in the woods. She’s opted for that in lieu of prison, although for what crime isn’t clear. But the camp rules certainly are: No reading, electronics, making eye contact, gestures and above all, no talking.
The Doctor (Robert Nolan, very good here) is a stern taskmaster who lectures on the virtues of a silent woman’s duty as wife and mother in a well-ordered home as he details the restrictions Janey is facing.
Aided by his two not-quite-there sons, the only other males on the property, the girls do daily mediation in a candlelit room and eat in silence. Janey is distressed to see a half dozen young submissive and silent women wandering around with downcast eyes and pursed lips, acting out the Doctor’s rules of submission. It’s only a matter of time before a Stepford Wives joke is cracked by Alexis (Sofia Banzhaf), who finds a way to communicate with Janey and hatches a plan to break out.
Or is that such a good idea? There are strange snarly things in the forest and vague talk of something that comes out at night. Getting caught means a trip to a cabin for special “treatment” that none of the girls who have been there can remember. For a horror movie, it’s all rather benign in the first two-thirds. The most disturbing elements of Silent Retreat are found in the stilted dialogue.
Rounding the final turn, Silent Retreat suddenly shifts to spill both guts and secrets, changing tone radically and becoming a completely different film. There’s a reason why the women were told to keep quiet and it has more to do with the thing in the woods than being subservient.
Aside from Nolan, performances lean toward the uneven, while unanswered questions and frayed threads of plot nag, although to her credit, Lee has worked hard to create chaos and tension in the final faceoff.