It’s almost Pride Month and we all know what that means: the corporate commodification of queer culture. Gear up for your bank tweeting by-the-numbers messages of support like “Here at [bank], we PROUDLY support the LGBTQ+ community!”. Prepare yourself for the designated aisle at Target/Walmart/Big Box Retail Store with the selection of rainbow-splashed apparel and home goods featuring unicorns and slogans like “Love Is Love”, “Out And Proud”, and simply “Pride.” And if you live in a state with legal cannabis, get ready for limited edition pride-themed edibles and pre-roll packs.
(Before you accuse me of being an overly cynical killjoy, I would like to point out that a lot of companies are doing better than they have in previous years when it comes to Pride Month, as in, some companies are donating percentages of merch sales to LGBTQ+ organizations and causes.)
Corporate appropriation aside, Pride Month can be a lot of fun for many in the LGBTQ+ community. There are usually cool events, fun parties, and of course, the (in)famous Pride Marches. It’s a time of celebration with your community and your friends and, more importantly, going to Pride events can be wonderfully affirming and comforting in a way that straight people just don’t understand (for the most part).
But there is a sobering side to all of this.
During Pride Month especially (as if we don’t deal with this fact every minute of every day), we are reminded of all the queer and trans people who aren’t able to celebrate who they are. Who live in fear of being outed. Who hide a part of themselves because for many, still, even in 2021, it’s dangerous to be anything but cisgender and straight.
We’re also reminded of the fact that even now, representation of queer and trans people in the media is severely lacking. When we talk about representation, we’re not just talking about the presence of A Gay in a movie. We’re talking about centering LGBTQ+ people in books, shows, and films and depicting them as actual human beings rather than stock characters.
Representation in the media is crucial, especially for those who are just starting to inch their way out of the closet.
The horror genre has always been a space for social commentary and criticism. So it should come as no surprise that there has actually always been queer representation in horror. Films in the past have had to mask, code, and mortally punish their queer characters, in part, due to the Hays Code and later McCarthyism and general social attitudes. But in recent years, the horror genre has been stepping up its game when it comes to queer representation, making their characters explicitly and unapologetically queer. Specific films that come to mind are The Perfection (2019), Bit (2019), What Keeps You Alive (2018), and Lyle (2014).
And now, enter THE RETREAT.
Written by Alyson Richards and directed by Pat Mills, THE RETREAT is a film about a lesbian couple who have a horrifically bad experience at an Airbnb. The film also stars Aaron Ashmore, Joey Coleman, Gavin Fox, Patrick Garrow, Celina Sindon, and Rossif Sutherland. It was produced by Lauren Grant and features cinematography by David Shuurman and music by Steph Copeland.
Valerie (played by Sarah Allen) and Renee (played by Tommie-Amber Pirie), both in their early-to-mid-thirties, are at a crossroads in their relationship some months into it. Renee is evidently reluctant to commit, either to Valerie or to a relationship at all, leaving Val to wonder if their relationship has legs, or if they should just call it quits so that she can connect with someone with whom she’s more compatible in the long term.
Despite this uncertainty, the two embark on a getaway (a retreat, if you will) to a gay-owned AirBnB, where they plan to spend the weekend with Valerie’s friends Scott (Munro Chambers) and Connor (Chad Connell), another couple. The trouble starts immediately when Scott and Connor are nowhere to be seen when they arrive. And soon, Valerie and Renee find themselves fighting for their lives against a group of armed extremists who are dead-set on hunting them down and killing them.
As a horror movie, THE RETREAT does not disappoint. The tension is palpable throughout the film, brought to us through dim lighting and authentic acting performances by not only Allen and Pirie, but by every member of the cast. Pirie’s Renee is flawed and frustrating, but ultimately sympathetic enough that we actively root for her survival. Allen’s performance as Valerie is equally strong, with an unrestrained vulnerability that transitions to total savagery.
As a queer horror movie, THE RETREAT is fantastic. As much as I complain about LGBTQ+ films being just about the protagonist’s sexual orientation, the focus is important here. Val, Renee, Scott, and Connor are being terrorized specifically because they are queer. And, more to the point, because they are openly queer. In a scene at the beginning of the movie, Val and Renee stop for gas near their AirBnB. Inside, a man hits on Valerie, who, to most people, would read as straight. Val tells the man that she’s with her girlfriend—an admission that Renee doesn’t appreciate because, in her words, the guy doesn’t need to know their business.
The fact of the matter is that it can be dangerous to be out and open about being queer, especially to strangers. And especially for women.
The man ends up being one of their tormentors.
THE RETREAT is a slasher movie and so one would expect a lot of gore and guts. The film delivers on that front. And it did so in a way that I didn’t expect, but thoroughly appreciated. Unlike most films in the slasher genre, THE RETREAT doesn’t make a spectacle of the deaths of the victims. In fact, the murders that are committed against the queer characters are not graphic at all; they’re hardly even shown. It’s a strong directorial choice that shows a great deal of respect to not only the LGBT characters in this specific movie, but to the LGBT characters in other films who have met grotesque ends that are shown in full detail.
Another point worth noting is that the violence against the female leads is never sexualized. That being said, THE RETREAT has some great and deeply satisfying kill shots.
This movie is obviously great for horror fans and lovers of slashers. But it’s also recommended viewing for those of us who are sick and tired of the “bury your gays” trope. And of course, it’s perfect for people who love survival movies set in the woods and starring badass and capable women. THE RETREAT is now available in select theaters and on VOD. hit the spot for me. I hope it resonates with you, too.
Happy Pride, friends. THE RETREAT is now available in select theaters and on VOD.