Emrhys Cooper’s directorial debut THE SHUROO RETREAT is a comedy-drama feature inspired by true events. This film is written and produced by Emrhys Cooper and Donal Brophy, who have recently launched the production company Idyllwild Pictures. Zachary Quinto and Jamie Moss are working alongside them as executive producers. This movie features an outstanding cast with Fiona Dourif, Olivia Sui, Donal Brophy, Tommy Dorfman, Emrhys Cooper, Rainey Qualley, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Jeff Hephner, and more in starring roles. The topic of this movie is inspired by Cooper’s childhood where he witnessed his parents fall victim to a phoney Guru’s life-threatening advice, after these harrowing events affected his own family he felt compelled to warn others against the hypocrisy of a growing multi-billion-dollar global industry and the charlatans who take advantage of vulnerable people.
THE SHUROO RETREAT has made waves in the festival circuit, already racking up five awards. The film has won Audience Choice at the UK Film Festival, won Best Feature at Big Apple Film Festival, won Best international Feature at Banaras Film Festival, won Outstanding Achievement at Druk International Film Festival, while Emrhys Cooper took home Best Director at the Banaras Film Festival.
THE SHUROO RETREAT follows frustrated New York journalist, Parker Schafer (played by Fiona Dourif) who is renowned in her field, and is a busy, in-demand journalist. The film opens with her return home from a Paris business trip, only to get dumped by her longtime boyfriend due to her partying habits. After she is kicked out of their shared apartment, she ends up staying with her close friend Nini (played by Olivia Sui), but quickly spirals out of control with her frequent alcohol and drug use. This culminates in a humiliating display at a journalism award show in which she is the honorary guest and speaker. For her speech she appears onstage fall-out drunk and accidently flashes the crowd and cameras when she trips and falls over. The media at the event pick-up the story which is then quickly circulated to all major news outlets, resulting in her getting fired from her workplace. Instead of recognizing these events as a wake up call, Parker only plunges further into her alcohol and drug fueled bender. Her escalating behaviour burns bridges with everyone she loves while she is simultaneously being mocked by the world for her conduct at the award show. Parker is eventually kicked out of her friend Nini’s home for her increasing dependency on drugs and growing erraticism, with no options left she opts to follow Nini’s earlier advice to seek out help from a Guru Shuroo at a health retreat they found online. In an attempt to try and gain some perspective (and a place to stay), Parker begins her wellness journey at The Shuroo Retreat.
The retreat is filled with eccentric characters, who are portrayed as realistic and complex by their respective actors, while still being incredibly colourful and relatable in an offbeat way. Each of these unique personalities has amazing character development throughout the film, given full back stories and interesting quirks that you don’t often see with side characters. The camp’s spirit guide is Guru Shuroo (played by writer/director/producer Emrhys Cooper), a mysterious and enigmatic leader who almost immediately reciprocates Parker’s shared interest. The camp appears to be a new-age Eden with lush landscapes that are amplified by the cinematography that uses saturation filters to intensify colour within the movie. The intent of this rainbow world is to seem idyllic for both the arriving campers and the audience. This kaleidoscope of colour is also used expertly later on in the film to engage the audience in the campers altered state of mind when they are given psychedelics by the Guru. The use of light and shadow in this film shift expertly to reflect a characters mood, and influences the overall tonality of any given scene.
Fiona Dourif is completely believable in her portrayal of Parker as an addict, without overacting she still manages to convey Parker’s neurotic behaviour and discomfort while detoxing. It’s a testament to the actress’s ability and how well she is written that Parker is simultaneously a nuisance to everyone around her, while also being extremely charismatic and likeable throughout the film. She is a complex character, Shuroo even points out to her at one point in the film that her dynamic personality is what makes her so fascinating to the world (as well as the audience). As soon as she’s sober, Parker is once again the hungry journalist that she once was. She partakes in the retreats oftentimes humorous and outlandish activities, and befriends the other campers and Guru Shuroo himself. The Guru (played by producer Donal Brophy) is able to read people with astonishing ease, one-by-one he breaks down each of the campers, forcing them to open up and be vulnerable with themselves and the group. Parker eventually succumbs to his tutelage, while still remaining hawkish in her surveillance of him and the bread trail of hints left throughout the film about his true nature. Parker picks up enough clues and gains enough intel to discover that Guru Shuroo is actually not who he claims to be, and we watch his lies unravel on screen.
Fiona Dourif is completely believable in her portrayal of Parker as an addict, without overacting she still manages to convey Parker’s neurotic behaviour and discomfort while detoxing.
Emrhys Cooper hopes this film will bring awareness, as a child he witnessed his family fall prey to a fake guru. “I witnessed my parents fall foul to some of this utterly bogus and life-threateningly bad advice. As a child I was unable to intervene, but now as an adult I feel compelled to reveal the hypocrisy and the fakery in this burgeoning multi-billion-dollar global industry,” said the director in an interview with Close-up Culture. Cooper warns people to beware of “quick-fix gurus’” promising to heal you in a few days for a fee, and emphasizes that the path to true recovery from trauma takes time and work. Feminism also plays a important role in this film with Parker written as a strong female lead who has no problem announcing and addressing the sexism she experiences in her workplace. Cooper spoke about the unrealistic standards women are often held to, “… Both myself and Donal Brophy have lots of amazing women in our lives, we’ve seen them struggle with balancing family life and career. They are expected to be everything to everyone all the time, it’s exhausting.” and how he hoped his character would surpass such sexist stereotypes. The film also raises the question of the outlandishness of these retreats and if they have any real benefit, whether real or imagined by participants. Parker manages to confront her past even amid all the chaos that ensues at The Shooroo Retreat, along with all of the other zany participants who also somehow manage to overcome whatever encumbrance weighing them down.
The film also raises the question of the outlandishness of these retreats and if they have any real benefit, whether real or imagined by participants.
The conclusion of this movie is one of hope and redemption, that comes full circle and is bound to be very satisfying for viewers. “The struggles of each character in the film are challenges the audience will easily relate to because, essentially, my message is that change is possible,” said the director about his debut film. Cooper and company manage to spin a tale that is so layered, so comical and complex that anyone who loves a genuinely good film will appreciate this brilliantly produced, gorgeously shot feature. The Shuroo Retreat teaches us about love, loss, and friendship. How we should be wary of false prophets, and how sometimes we just need to look inside ourselves and reflect honestly to heal old wounds. This compelling film is a roller coaster ride of emotions, filled with interesting characters that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
Cooper and company manage to spin a tale that is so layered, so comical and complex that anyone who loves a genuinely good film will appreciate this brilliantly produced, gorgeously shot feature
By Keya Rivera