The Retreat hit theaters and on video-on-demand on May 21, 2021. The film tells the story of a lesbian couple whose relationship is on the rocks who travel to a cabin in the woods for a pre-wedding retreat only to end up fighting to survive when a group of militant killers begin hunting them.
iHorror had the opportunity to sit down with writer Alyson Richards and director Pat Mills to discuss the film, and they were all too happy to take us behind the scenes of their feature.
For Richards, it seems the story for The Retreat grew directly out of real life in a way after she took a trip with her own wife to a cabin in the woods.
“We got up there and everything was beautiful,” she began. “We never saw our host, but we constantly felt like we were being watched. We’d go for walks and come back and there’d be a fresh set of towels and little notes around the place. It got kind of unnerving. There was this idea that clearly there was someone here and watching us. We’re not seeing them. As women and as queer women, I began to get paranoid. Like, who are these people? Do they like us? Do they not like us? Then my imagination started spinning and that was where the idea sort of began.”
Richards and Mills had wanted to create a horror film together for a long time so it was a no-brainer for the director when she told him about her idea. They began scouting locations even as the writer was working on the script and used what they found to inform moments within the story.
In a way, they were reverse-engineering elements of the story, an approach that neither had really done before, but that seemed to work for the film. That wasn’t the only thing that drew Mills to the story, however.
“One of the things that I just really responded to and was drawn towards was that these two gay women don’t turn on one another and they really help each other,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the horror genre, we see a lot of the opposite. From Basic Instinct to High Tension—those are older references—the characters turn on one another and I’m like, ‘That’s now how gay people are.’ We go into an environment that’s scary and we have to rely on and help each other survive it.”
The film is an intense ride with a talented cast including Sarah Allen (The Expanse) and Tommie-Amber Pirie (Parallel Minds) as the central couple and Aaron Ashmore (Locke & Key) as the man-in-charge of the group who is hunting them.
“Everyone is so good in the movie,” Mills said. “Alyson and I wanted the performances in the film to feel really real grounded. Nobody feels too big or too small. It just feels really about right at the right level. Especially with Tommie and Sarah as the central relationship, we really loved their chemistry. They just felt real as a couple which was important to us.”
With a great cast locked into place, the crew only had to finalize the locations. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as smooth a process as they would have liked. Mills had already worked up his shot-list and their cinematographer had plans in place for their cabin, only for it to fall through just over 24 hours before shooting was set to begin. It forced them to get creative and they were ultimately even more pleased with where they landed than they felt they would have been with the original location.
That was when the weather at The Retreat also decided to take a turn.
“The really interesting thing is that you make all of these decisions when you’re making a film but ultimately, you’re a victim of the environment,” the director pointed out. “We established this autumn weather and then halfway through the movie it snowed. We’d brush off the snow and then do these close up shots because we couldn’t show the environment because it looked like a Bing Crosby White Christmas situation. Thankfully, it’s the horror genre and if it feels claustrophobic then maybe it’s okay, but I had planned on all these wide shots.”
And now, after all their work, the film is finally making its way in front of an audience, an exciting moment for both Mills and Richards as they have been unable to host screenings with audiences due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“It’s funny, someone asked me in an interview yesterday, ‘How did you know when it was working?'” Richards said with a laugh. “I was like, right now. You saying that. Other than my wife thinks it’s awesome. Yeah, I think that’s a challenge right now. We are starting to see some nice reviews come in, so it’s been gratifying.”
The Retreat is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Vudu, AppleTV+, and Fandango Now. Check out the trailer, and let us know if you’ve seen the film in the comments below!