WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
Guest Movie Critic - and our resident Horror Film Expert Doug Rice reviewed a Horro film set and shot not from here.
The creature/spirit from Native American folklore, the wendigo, has surprisingly been largely ignored when it comes to film and television over the years. It’s actually only been over the past few decades that a handful of filmmakers (also not surprisingly from the Northeast) have attempted to mine this terror from the Algonquian tales and project its dread onto the “big screen”. With the horror genre constantly seeking out new monsters and baddies to scare and entertain their audiences, you’d think that a creature like the wendigo would provide many opportunities to do both. Yet, with the exceptions of movies like, The Last Winter, Ravenous or the simply named Wendigo, most only give a passing reference to the ancient evil. With the upcoming, the Retreat, Albany-born writer/director, Bruce Wemple, steps forward to take his crack at the beastie while putting the legend front and center.
Not to be confused with the 2011 film, Retreat, starring Cillian Murphy, the 2020 feature, The Retreat, is set in the Adirondacks during the winter months and spends little time establishing the Native American mythology. We’re very quickly introduced to best friends Gus and Adam, as the duo have traveled up to the mountain range from the city (presumably NYC) for a bachelor party, backpacking trip... I know. Why would just two people go out into the wilderness in the middle of the winter for a bachelor party? I didn’t get it either, but nevertheless... the two friends arrive at a B&B style lodging near their hiking location and find a number of bizarre and unnerving paintings decorating the walls, each depicting the wendigo in a variety of ways. Later that night, while sharing beers with their host Marty; he explains in passing the paintings and covers the basics of the wendigo.
And just like that, the two friends head out before sunrise to get a jump on an ambitious schedule to conquer as many High Peaks as possible in their four-day sojourn. Of course, it doesn’t take long before Gus, starts seeing vague shapes and figures in the woods though he doesn’t relay these strange sightings to Adam. Saying too much beyond that would potentially lead into spoiler territory, so let’s just say things get very weird, very quickly not too long after.
I really want to like this movie. However, there are a number of things that prevent me from genuinely doing so. Firstly, I feel like, The Retreat, suffers from a lack of identity. It’s hard to tell what you’re watching sometimes. There are many times where the movie feels like it’s grounded in psychological horror, while other moments you are wadding knee deep into legit monster-movie mayhem. Mix in some awkward pacing, psychedelic imagery, and questionable story structuring and you’re often left asking, what exactly is happening? At its core, I can appreciate that, Wemple, is attempting to present an intelligent and thought-provoking horror flick, but sometimes the film suffers from trying to be too smart. It’s one thing to present the audience with surprises, attempting to lead them astray with red herrings and disjointed information, but in this case, there were a lot of times where I mostly just felt confused.
It’s also difficult when your main protagonist is a huge tool. I’m not referring to the actors here or their ability... Actually, I think the small cast does a fairly good job with what they’re given. What I’m referring to is the story’s choice to have a main character who is very flawed and generally unlikable. While key to what, Wemple, is presenting in the context of both the legend of the wendigo and the story being presented, it’s certainly a high wire act that’s tricky to pull off. I’m not convinced that they stuck the landing with it. Also, I wasn’t really stoked about the ending. I’m sure there will be plenty that won’t mind it, but personally, I think in trying to do something memorable, it again suffers from trying to be too slick.
I think the films biggest issue is that perhaps the concept itself isn’t robust enough to justify it as feature length. I truly believe that the 80 minute run-time actually hurts the overall tone and delivery of the content. I could actually see this as a 30 minute offering for a TV show like a, Tales From the Crypt or Creepshow. Squashing, The Retreat, down into that type of format would make for a tense, unnerving and very creepy watch.
Make no mistake, there’s still a lot here to like. The film looks fantastic. The filmmakers do a great job of presenting the setting, which to my knowledge is in fact the greater Adirondack area. I’m sure there are many who would be better at recognizing some of the landmarks in the movie better than me... the guy who has never been there on such a trip. There’s some nice creature work and moments that are unsettling. For those less hardened by the years of intense horror hunting, there’s bound to be plenty here to make you uneasy in the shadows of your own lodging after the end credits roll.
The Retreat, isn’t a great movie, but it’s definitely not a bad movie. More than anything, I love the fact that there are more filmmakers trying their hand at the wendigo mythology. Like I said, there’s a lot of clay to sculpt with. While I wouldn’t say that, Wemple, and crew knocked it out of the park, The Retreat, does a nice job with the subject matter and gives the wendigo its first real, unfiltered spotlight. You can tell that it was a real passion project for those involved and it’s hard not to applaud it for that. If you’re looking for a shiver on a cold winter night, you could certainly do worse. I give it a 2 ½ out of 5.
The Retreat, will be available for VOD on November 10th through most platforms, including Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, ITunes as well as Direct TV and Dish.