Directed by Adam MacDonald
I’m going to go out on a VERY short limb, and use an adage that has applied to horror films since that big ol’ ugly shark named Bruce jumped out of the sea, and literally sank his Jaws into everything he set his sights on (see what I did there?). The truism that I speak of is “blank movie does for the blank what Jaws did for the ocean” – and director Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry does the same, but for the woods. Forget the Blair Witch, toss The Evil Dead to the side, and kick The Cabin in the Woods to the curb, as THIS is the movie that should act as the atypical cautionary tale to keep all of your butts out of the forest, mainly because it’s based on a true story.
The film’s premise is as easy as 1-2-7: a seemingly happy couple decide to take their affections on the road to the Canadian wilderness, where “competent” outdoorsman Alex (Jeff Roop) has been rather boastful about his multiple hiking exploits to the area that he has so skillfully traversed in the past. His girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym), a corporate lawyer, couldn’t be further removed from the court as humanly possible, and she’s reluctant to follow her companion into the woodlot, regardless of his lofty claims. Their relationship comes off as tepid at times, and you’re not exactly placed with the notion that these two have the warmest feelings for each other, however they make the best of their surroundings and enjoy the outdoor living: eating under the stars, happily hiking the numerous trails, and even finding time for a little skinny dipping. A wrench becomes tossed into their plans for some much-needed alone time when a mysterious hiker (Eric Balfour with a suspect Irish accent) stops at their site and is immediately invited to a campfire dinner by Jenn. Alex is noticeably vexed with her decision, but decides to let the Gaelic backpacker indulge in some fish and conversation, and after supper a remark made by Alex earlier is misunderstood by the hiker and tension mounts between the two. After a short stare-off and some rigid dialogue between the two, the roamer sets off into the woods, and our blissful couple becomes worried that they may have pissed off the wrong man.
As the film progresses, we learn that Alex isn’t quite as polished in the wilderness as originally thought – he commits some serious errors in judgment that result in he and his flame’s becoming lost. These are NOT the mistakes that a knowledgeable camper would (or should) be making: hanging a bloody sock in a tree branch (a hanging toenail being pulled off is simplistic in its vision, yet equally stomach-turning to the right people),and a cell phone with GPS capability is moronically left WAY back in the car. All of the afore stated blunders combined with the customary noises in the night against the couple’s tent would lead you to believe that they are being hunted, by whom (or what)? What follows is a tense, nerve-wracking plunge into the deepest points of natural aggression – once again, THIS is the stuff that will prevent me from camping in an unfamiliar area forever.
One of God’s creatures is on a rampage through the vast timberland, and the scariest part about it is that it is completely feasible in its production and presentation: something that lives and breathes, yet craves flesh and blood as sustenance in order to survive, and for that…Mr. MacDonald deserves a hearty pat on the back. When a movie takes a non-traditional route to wring its scares from the audience, it is ultimately met with surprise and amazement, yet the true shocks in this movie are just as strong BECAUSE of their raw fierceness. One scene in particular had me taken aback, not necessarily from the copious amount of gore that was splashed around, but how it got to that particular point was what surprised me (in a good way, too).
When the credits rolled at the close of the film, I was more than pleasantly surprised at what I’d seen – not due to the performances, which were standard (at best), the long pauses (far too many), and not the scenery (which was undoubtedly imposing), but the truth and realism of what could (and apparently) have happened to a couple of innocent victims. Sometimes the biggest scares can come from the most simplistic of scenarios, and with that being said, Backcountry is a film that should come with a warning label affixed to it, not for content, but for the sense of reality that is portrayed within – this is one movie that NEEDS to be watched before pitching a tent for the night in ANY wooded area. – A must-see.