I’ve never been sentenced to jail, so I can’t say for sure, but I have to imagine that being sent to rehab instead is a welcome relief for any soon-to-be inmate. Silent Retreat, however, is a movie that makes regular old jail time look pretty good.
Directed by Tricia Lee, the film begins with Janey, played by Chelsea Jenish, being driven to rehab, after being arrested for assault, the driver instructing her that the first rule at rehab is no talking. And the rules get even weirder after she arrives. Met quickly by the nameless doctor and head of the camp, played by Robert Nolan, he strictly informs her that there is to be no internet or phone which seems plausible, but no reading? No writing? A bedtime that starts at sunset??
“It’s time to clear your mind of all unnecessary noise,” he tells her ominously. After that, I was wondering what exactly we would see everyone doing.
The film is set in an isolated summer camp, with each of the five girls at rehab having her own empty cabin. Rather than therapy or classes that teach life skills (the sorts of things I imagine happen in real rehab facilities) rehab at this camp, which is run only by the doctor and his two sons, seems to consist only of the girls serenely listening to relaxation tapes while sitting on yoga mats, almost as if in a meditation class. On the surface, it looks almost peaceful, but Janey can tell – no dialogue needed – that something more sinister is going on than what meets the eye. Particularly after she witnesses the one troublemaker of the group being dragged away to Cabin 9 and then later returning, almost as a mindless zombie.
She decides that is it for her, but her attempt at escaping the rehab camp fails and she is warned that there are “things she doesn’t want to encounter” out in the woods. Janey soon forms a secret friendship with charismatic Alexis, played by Sofia Banzhaf. Alexis doesn’t really know much more than Janey, but she knows they are there to become Stepford Wives, and the two decide that they have to try leaving together, particularly when Alexis doesn’t remember ever having been in Cabin 9, even though Janey saw her coming out of it just the day before.
The two hatch a plan to escape, and find out some deeply disturbing information in the process. Alexis has been there since 2012 – the only problem being that she doesn’t realize it’s now 2014. Before they can actually get away though, Alexis is caught and given one last, final attempt at “rehabilitation.”
This is the point where viewers finally get to find out what happens in Cabin 9, and since I was so interested in finding out myself, I am not going to spoil it in this review. The attempt is deemed a failure, however, and Alexis soon finds herself about to become a meal for the ominous “thing” out in the woods. That’s what happens to the girls who can’t be successfully turned into Stepford wives and sold off to husbands (the whole point of this rehab camp.) Janey saves Alexis though, and we spend the last part of the film watching everyone – staff included – try to evade the creature, which has an appetite for anything that creates sound.
The creature in the film sports a super sharp pair of claws and is very capable of shredding anything in sight, but I honestly thought the film’s real horror was the chilling, misogynistic behavior of the doctor and his two sons towards the girls, who they only see as commodities. In one riveting scene, the doctor tenderly gives one injured girl, having been attacked by the creature, a drag of a cigarette, almost as though he cares for her, but then slashes her throat.
I don’t know how realistic every aspect of Silent Retreat is. What happens in Cabin 9 doesn’t really seem capable of causing large time lapses in memory or Stepford-like behavior and it’s hard to believe that a fake rehab camp, run only by a staff of three, could actually exist. I also honestly could have done with maybe a little less of watching Janey and Alexis hide from the creature.
But I still have to give Silent Retreat a thumbs up. Nolan is really great as the head of the camp and I enjoyed watching the bond between Janey and Alexis. It held my attention during the whole 95 minute run and the plot was a nice, chilling spin on something that is probably usually thought of as pleasant alternative to jail.
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