When I say I’m always on the hunt for a new slasher to watch, whether older or newer, I mean I’m constantly scouring the internet for any horror that I may have somehow missed. While the genre itself has been thriving in the last few years especially, we’re still lacking in the modern slasher department. Then to add on to this sad fact, there’s also just not enough queer horror films or even queer characters within the slasher genre which has ultimately left us with only a few options to keep revisiting; Hellbent and Blumhouse’s Into The Dark episode titled Midnight Kiss come to mind. Not to dismiss the fantastic queer horror entries we’ve been given over the last decade; but when it comes to a gay slasher fan like me, I’m just not getting my fix. And then enters Pat Mills (Don’t Talk To Irene) new film written by Alyson Richards (The Sublet), The Retreat.
The Retreat follows Renee (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and Valerie (Sarah Allen), a lesbian couple who are leaving the city for a weekend getaway to a gay friendly Airbnb where they’re friends (another gay couple) are having a pre-wedding celebration. Little do they know, their nice little retreat is quite the opposite of gay friendly and they’re thrown into a fight for survival against a group of psychopathic bigots.
From the opening of this film, you can tell that it plans on wasting no time at all. I actually feel very confident in saying that this film has one of the strongest first acts I’ve seen in a while. To start off, we’re introduced to our two leading ladies who are in a relationship which is awesome because as stated by screenwriter Alyson Richards herself, “In so many movies and shows, the queer female characters are often killed or worse, revealed to be the ‘psychotic killer’ and then killed. Our limited representation is often expendable and only exists to support the heteronormative narrative.” All of this rings true. Whenever we’re given a queer character within the group it almost always feels performative yet we latch on to them anyways only for their fate to always end in disaster. This idea is thrown out the window immediately because not only are we given one strong female lead, but instead two openly gay women to root for and they do not waste this at all. These two characters fight tooth and nail – together I might add – against their attackers.
One of my favourite things about this film actually was how quickly they reacted. There is nothing worse than watching characters in a horror film take their sweet time to clue into how insidious their situation is, only to go on and make a million mistakes that ultimately lead to their demise. From the moment that the main couple senses something wrong, their fight and flight both kick in and they do not waste any time in trying to escape their scenario. While already likeable characters, it makes us root for them even harder because they’re not complete idiots.
Another aspect that I loved a lot was the violence and who it was directed at. The whole plot feels very 2005s Hostel-like with a queer twist in that people pay to torture captured members of the queer community. The last thing I ever want to do is sit down and watch gay characters be violently tortured by straight psychos; luckily that never ended up being the case here. Most of the violence towards the victims is never graphically shown and more so implied, which could have then made this a lousy horror film for gore hounds. But they made up for it by having all the deaths involving the attackers be absolutely epic and twisted.
Although this had a great start and a very satisfying and stress inducing climax, I did find the middle dragged on. It almost slowed down a bit too much once all of our protagonists were captured and to add on to that, two of the four characters in the group had barely any screen time. While I’ll be the first to admit I love a film that wastes no time in getting to the action, I truly believe this could have benefited with an extra ten minutes or so during its opening to properly introduce the soon to be married couple, or even give them some more screen time in the middle that gives us some extra emotional attachment to them. The characterization just ultimately could have been stronger but this also isn’t necessarily a sub genre that relies on its characterization so this is really just me being picky. With that said, the third act is excellent and delivers on almost all fronts.
The great thing about this film is that it’s coming out in a time where we’re able to be dissect and be more critical of queer horror films which is such an incredible thing. Alyson Richards and Pat Mills came to deliver us an above average horror thriller with characters that so many queer people of all ages will get to watch on screen and they’ve one hundred percent reached that goal. It’s important for people to see themselves in all sorts of genres and stories, and yes that includes ones with death and deranged killers. While watching this film, I couldn’t help but wish that I was sitting in a theatre with a crowd. This is mainstream material right here and to see a film that is so well made with so many gay characters on the screen, it just feels correct and long overdue. I’m really hoping this is the start of many other slashers with leads that aren’t just straight people with gay best friends to be picked off before them.
Once in a blue moon a film like this will come out and queer horror fans cannot let this be overlooked. We need more of these stories at the front and centre of our screens because it’s a new age in horror and we should no longer be at a point where we’re surprised to see queer people leading in the genre. It’s an impressive addition and I’m positive that many horror fans are going to love this as much as I did, if not more.