Have you ever seen a movie that you felt you should like, a movie that has all the elements that you tend to enjoy, only to grudgingly come to the conclusion that – when you’re being honest with yourself – that you didn’t like it nearly as much as you’d thought you would?
That was my experience with Bruce Wemple’s The Retreat – which was done much better when it was 2018’s Calibre (minus the supernatural premise it’s essentially the same movie, except much better done).
The Retreat revolves around two best friends – one of whom is getting married – who decide to go hiking in the Adirondacks in lieu of a bachelor party.
Though events don’t go quite as planned (which is to be expected, after all this is a horror movie) though the narrative device the writer/director uses is in some way similar to that Christopher Nolan worked successfully with in Momento (2000).
Though Wimple isn’t Christopher Nolan.
Part of the problem is that we don’t really know who the characters are, beyond Gus (Grant Schumacher) being a bit of a dick to Adam (Dylan Grunn), which is really odd because the movie doesn’t show us why these two guys would be friends, never mind best friends.
That Adam so passively accepts Gus’s abuse made me wonder for a time if there relationship were a homosexual one, because that would at least help explain why Adam tolerated him (it’s worth noting is that the only time Adam stood up to him was when both men were high and even then his behavior was more apologetic than volcanic) though what’s closer to the truth is that both characters were little more than outlines, so you could ascribe virtually any motivation for their behavior you chose).
Though when things get weird is also when they also start to get interesting, which is undermined at times by a needlessly bombastic score (which isn’t to say that Nate VanDeusen’s music isn’t really good, because it is. What isn’t is sometimes how it’s used to accent certain scenes).
And Wimple, beyond the musical choices, sometimes frames scenes oddly. Such instances don’t take up a lot of film real estate, though they’re distracting enough when combined with the music that they carry greater weight than they normally would.
There’s a scene when Gus and Adam are having drinks with two other men before they go on their hike, and the owner of the house begins to talk about the Wendigo, a local legend in those parts.
And the music turns the “ominous” meter to “11” though nothing is happening but people talking around a table.
Sure, there’s some weird paintings but nothing that warrants that music.
There’s another scene, when Gus is kneeling in front of a fire, clearly exhausted. The shot is particularly tight on his face and shoulders.
The camera pulls out, the music goes all dramatic, and I’m wondering “WTF!? Did I miss something? There has to be a reason for that!?
So I rewound the movie about three or four times and finally noticed what the huballoo was about.
If Bruce Wimple had changed just one element the scene would have worked really well.
Though he didn’t, and it didn’t though in the process I had to watch the same scene two or three times too many, which distracted me just a little bit (and did I mention that this was the second time I watched The Retreat? Because it was).
Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad or unwatchable, as opposed to one that takes a particularly difficult path to tell its story, and stumbles.