Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Adam MacDonald
Written by: Adam MacDonald
Starring: Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym & Eric Balfour
BACKCOUNTRY had my attention since it premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival in the Midnight Madness section (specifically dedicated to horror and other genre fare). Though it sounded like a pretty by-the-numbers plot when looking at the set-up, this was receiving some impressive reviews and I was excited to see if this new man-against-nature film delivered. BACKCOUNTRY is far more well-made than most other recent films in this subgenre, but it’s also a pretty basic movie that doesn’t feel at all fresh or particularly special.
Jenn and Alex are a city-dwelling couple going on a weekend trip through Canadian wilderness. Alex has always wanted to take Jenn to a beautiful lakeside hiking area known as Blackfoot Trail. However, this city-slickin’ couple seem to be far out of their league and short on common sense. Alex gets into a macho conversational stand-off with a strange Irish tour guide. He then proceeds to get himself and Jenn lost in the forest without a trail to follow. With emotions at a dangerously high level, the couple make a horrifying discovery. They’ve stumbled smack dab in the middle of territory that belongs to a vicious black bear. As you can imagine, the bear is none too pleased to see them. Jenn and Alex must work together and use ingenuity if they are ever to make it out of this mess alive.
A couple of things struck me right off the bat in BACKCOUNTRY. The film is beautifully shot with director Adam McDonald making the use of the natural environment around him. The woods are thick and foreboding while also gorgeous and an ideal camping location. A lot of time is spent on building suspense and slow-burn tension between these characters. By the time that the actual bloodthirsty bear shows up, this couple have already been put through an emotional wringer. However, the technical side of this film only counts for so much, because the rest of it is overly predictable. BACKCOUNTRY feels like a been-there, done-that experience that just happens to be a little more professionally made than most of its competition.
Alex is a wholly unlikable character from the start and makes a variety of really stupid decisions that come off as nothing more than standard horror clichés. These include: not listening to the warnings of an old-timer, not taking a map with him just in case, and throwing out his Jenn’s cell phone. This film hits all the prerequisite requirements to be another CABIN IN THE WOODS slasher flick, though it only has three characters and the killer is a bear. There’s also usage of shaky-cam that totally derails a couple of scenes that might have otherwise been pretty scary, but instead come off as cheesy. Jenn isn’t exactly a genius herself when it comes to surviving out in the wild. She makes some mighty dumb decisions too, one of which is waiting forever to spray bear mace when she’s given a solid two minutes of opportunity to do so. The last act of this film drags with pensive shots of the landscape and melancholy music playing. There’s a good chunk (10 minutes worth) that could have been cut out of this film entirely.
Don’t expect anything necessarily special from BACKCOUNTRY and you’re not likely to walk away disappointed. The film looks great visually, but doesn’t have a compelling script to back that up. Thanks to two unlikable characters, horror movie clichés running rampant, and shaky camera work soiling what could have been intense moments, BACKCOUNTRY just feels like another run-of-the-mill man against nature flick. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly not good or original. If you’re a fan of THE GREY or THE EDGE, then you might find this to be an acceptable quick time-killer for when you have nothing else lying around. Otherwise, BACKCOUNTRY really isn’t worth visiting.