It is so rare for filmmakers to truly think outside of the box these days, so when I checked out The Retreat from director Bruce Wemple despite negative reviews on Amazon and discovered it had not only creatures but some queer content, I had to see what else he had going on. And that led me to Monstrous, which again had negative reviews, creatures, and queer content. As someone who has watched horror for five decades and welcomes an occasional break from the horror trends and clichés of the day, I’m happy to have flipped the haters the bird instead of missing out on these two. So let’s get into them.
THE RETREAT (2020)
From the very beginning of this film about two buddies that go hiking in the woods, which Wemple also wrote, I thought, “Something about this feels kind of gay.” By the end of the film, something about it was indeed kind of gay.
When they reach their 2-man bachelor party getaway, the buddies hang with a couple of other men at the timeshare cabin, where talk turns to the legend of the Wendigo, how it can possess people and even has cannibalistic tendencies.
Once the guys are out in the woods and set up camp, there’s some bonding time and they explore their feelings. Surprisingly, there’s a damn good monster attack early on that goes for a found footage vibe, complete with some effective jump scares.
The next morning, one guy wakes up to find himself alone. The film begins to explore his mental state as he tries to cope with his predicament and piece together what actually happened. Pretty soon we don’t know what’s real and what’s in his head as guilt begins to eat away at him.
As he dives deeper into remembering what occurred the night his friend disappeared, the monster action ramps up, and it is quite satisfying.
While the creature isn’t meant to be the focus of the film, which is more about the man’s own inner turmoil and relationship with his buddy, I think The Retreat does a much better job of delivering on standard horror elements (aka: frightening monster moments) than most psychological horror.
This is an oddly unique hybrid horror film that is also in essence a lesbian horror flick. The credit for that goes to Anna Shields, who is the writer and star. It gets bashed online for not delivering so much on its Bigfoot promise, but I actually found Monstrous quite clever in that Bigfoot is just incidental to a much more calculated threat in the woods. Should Bigfoot have been featured so prominently on the promo art? Perhaps not. But we do get to see a good shot of him before all is said and done, and he looks dang scary. He reminded somewhat of the creature from Exists, one of my favorite Bigfoot films of all time, as did some of the Bigfoot plot elements.
Meanwhile, the film also gets attacked for “shoving woke PC lesbian agenda shit down our throats”. When the fuck did horror fans become such a bunch of….dare I say it? Yes I dare. PUSSIES. Not to mention, when did straight dudes start hating lesbian sex scenes?
The opener is a short, suspenseful Bigfoot scene that lets us know there is most definitely a Bigfoot lurking in the woods.
Then we meet a guy (the leading man from The Retreat) who is not only into reports of Bigfoot attacks, but is concerned about a friend who disappeared after a planned trip into the Adirondacks. He asks a female friend to join him in trying to track her down, but then bails at the last minute, leaving the female friend to do it herself. She soon meets another girl, and they immediately pull a major lesbian stereotype move, shacking up together…in a cabin in the woods! But as she’s busy getting romantic with the stranger, the main girl is quietly searching for any signs of her missing friend. Soon, tension builds between the girls as trust issues come into play.
And that is the meat of this movie’s slow burn. There’s a creature lurking outside, but is there also something sinister going on inside? The dark truth comes out in the end, and Bigfoot, after making only some minor appearances throughout the course of the film, comes out to play in the final act, complicating matters even more for the girls and offering a pretty gnarly climax that is loaded with pretty wild twists.