Backcountry. 2015. Directed and Written by Adam MacDonald.
Starring Missy Peregrym, Eric Balfour, Jeff Roop, and Nicholas Campbell.
Rated 14A. 92 minutes.
I really enjoy films that involve a humans versus nature premise. Even some of what you might consider survival horror.
There are tons of them out there. Some that I’m particularly fond of are Long Weekend (1978), The Edge, of course there’s Jaws, and more recent movies like Black Water.
Part of what I like about these films is that there is a strong psychological element. When men and women are pitted against the natural elements, animals, et cetera, there is a very definitely terror in the psyche. Particularly, I think it’s because (most of) these films are realistic (maybe Jaws is a bit of a stretch at certain times yet still kicks ass – hard). What scares me, personally, about stuff like The Edge and Black Water is that these animals are real, they’re dangerous, and the situations the characters in those films get stuck in can happen so easily that the horror and the terror becomes visceral. It eats away at us inside because it’s easier to put ourselves in these positions than it truly is to try and put ourselves in the shoes of the characters from slasher movies (et cetera).
Backcountry doesn’t boast anything particularly innovative in regards to its premise. However, it has a bit of good stuff – mainly the suspense throughout makes for a tense ride with the characters. While the script isn’t bad, there isn’t anything to rave about here, other than a decently paced slowburn thriller in the backwoods of Canada.
We follow Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop) as they head off into the Canadian wilderness. Along Blackfoot Trail, they come across another man named Brad (Eric Balfour), who acts a little odd especially towards Jenn; their unsettling encounter ends with no harm done, but Alex is certainly not pleased.
After the couple goes further on things start to deteriorate – Alex’s supposed knowledge of where to go falls apart, they get lost. Jenn berates him, calling him a loser asking why they even had to go looking for the lake Alex wanted to find; to which he responds the point was for a marriage proposal. Along they go, awkwardly.
Soon enough all that really matters is survival – a bear comes on their trail, almost seeming to hunt them. Alex and Jenn try their hardest to make it out of the woods, however, closer as the bear gets to them their survival seems less and less likely.
The script isn’t anything innovative. There’s nothing wrong with it, not at all. The dialogue is pretty right on. I didn’t hate the characters for the wrong reasons; each of them were flawed in their own ways, each of them had their strengths.
One thing I didn’t particularly understand, or see the use for, was the inclusion of the accent on the character of Brad (Eric Balfour). I just don’t see why there was a need to make the character Irish. Balfour pulled off the accent for the most part, I don’t really have any complains about that, I’m just not sure why there was a need to make this Irish and have Balfour even doing an accent. If they wanted an Irishman, I’m sure there’s an actual Irish actor that could’ve done the job as well, if not better. That’s not a big flaw, I’m just unable to wrap my head around it. I thought the character himself worked perfectly; added that extra bit of tension that sort of set off fires in the relationship between Alex and Jenn, which later explodes when they’re lost. It’s still weird to me that MacDonald chose to just up and make this character, out in the middle of backcountry Canada, an Irishman. I love the Irish, just seems strange coupled with the fact it’s not an Irish actor playing the character. Not a big enough role to warrant doing an accent, but that’s just me, I guess.
What I did like is the fact Backcountry doesn’t go for the typical heroic type situation.
SPOILER ALERT – TURN BACK LEST YE BE SPOILED!
Alex gets mauled and chewed to death by the stalking bear. This leaves Jenn alone to fend for herself. What I like is that Alex made the idiot move of not taking a map earlier in the film when it was offered by a park ranger. This leads to them being lost after Alex takes them, obviously, the wrong way; they end up somewhere he didn’t expect to be. Then, once Alex meets his grisly end at the teeth of the bear, Jenn has to take the burden upon herself to get out of there alive.
She is the hero in the end, though, Alex still dies. She could have easily succumbed to the bear, eventually, but Jenn fights tooth and nail until making it back to civilization.
Like the picture above, there were some incredible effects shots. One particularly involves Alex’s face – it is brutal, just downright savage. Great make-up.
The brutality is only short. Most of Backcountry‘s horror is executed through the suspense and tension created as the film chugs along. Once all the terror of the bear’s pursuit breaks out, Alex and Jenn go on the run, and it gets scary. Again, as I’ve said in many reviews, I really try putting myself in the shoes of the characters; these types of situation, because I love to go out in nature, camping (et cetera) and have all my life, really scare the wits out of me at times. MacDonald does a fine job at making the suspense work.
When we get the few bloody shots, gore and all, of Alex being terrorized by the killer bear, it comes in only a few sparse shots. However, the result is effective. Like the picture above, there are a few moments of just utter carnage, and it leaves a lasting impression. Once you see that, you almost want to start yelling at Jenn, saying “GET MOVING!” This is not a straight up horror movie, but it absolutely is a survival horror at times, and has all the makings of a thriller. With the blood and gore in those several shots, it’s enough to make things frightening.
Backcountry does not do anything new with the familiar story of people lost in the woods being hunted by a bear/other animal. There are plenty of films out there with very close to the same plot, however, Adam MacDonald at least uses his ability to create tension and suspense to execute a pretty thrilling, contained little film.
All the same, I can’t really say this is anything more than a 3 star film. It isn’t badly written, but by the same token it hasn’t given us anything to be overly impressed with in terms of story, dialogue, or characters. The characters MacDonald wrote are decent, their development worked, yet it still leaves a want for more. I can’t say I wasn’t thrilled, and chilled a few times, while watching Backcountry. I can also say I won’t be watching it again any time soon. The David Mamet-penned action/adventure-thriller The Edge is much more worthy in this field; though it is less horror and more action, there’s still enough frightening moments to make it another instance of survival horror, albeit tame compared to other titles in the sub-genre.
See it, judge for your own self. I just don’t think you’ll be overly impressed with much in this, other than a handful of scenes and some decent acting.