Starring Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym, Eric Balfour
Directed by Adam MacDonald
Distributed by Scream Factory
Let’s get one thing out of the way – Backcountry (2014) is not a horror movie; at least, not in the traditional sense. The film is a harrowing tale of adventure and survival, with only minor horror elements included. The Blu-ray’s cover art is slightly deceiving, making it look like viewers are in store for 90 minutes of bear-on-man (or woman, gotta have equality in mauling) action. In reality, what writer/director Adam MacDonald has delivered is a strong character film, focused on a couple who venture into the woods of Canada for different reasons and come out radically changed. The bear activity is secondary to our spending time with this couple, coming to understand their personalities (and defects) and – eventually – seeing at least one of them undergo an emotional metamorphosis. When a film’s “big bad” is more of a background lurker and less the star player, the onus of success rests squarely on the shoulders of the lead actors and the writing. In this instance, it’s star Missy Peregrym who assuredly shoulders the workload.
Alex (Jeff Roop) has big plans to take his girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym) on a woodland excursion, deep in the Canadian wilderness. Jenn seems reluctant to embark on such an adventure, but she plays along and acquiesces to Alex’s whims. He wants a quiet, technology-free weekend, and Jenn agrees to leave her cellphone tucked into her backpack for the duration of the trip. Upon arriving at the ranger station, Alex checks in but declines to take a map, claiming he knows the area well enough. He’s no tourist! Off the couple go, into the heavily wooded forest and onward to a mythical lake Alex remembers from his youth. During their first night they come across Brad (Eric Balfour), an Irish camping guide who happens to have a handful of freshly-caught fish with him. Jenn invites him to stay for dinner; Alex, however, is immediately threatened by the presence of another male. This becomes obvious to Brad and he decides to leave, but not before making it known he’s aware of Alex’s insecurities.
The next morning Alex and Jenn continue on their journey. Alex spots fresh bear tracks but saying nothing to Jenn. She’s been a real trooper during this adventure, putting up with Alex’s typical male thickheaded demeanor and allowing him to take the reins on their trek. Her reluctant allowance is shattered in an instant, however, when they arrive at the lake and find… nothing. Alex was wrong, and now they’re lost. Even worse, fearing Jenn would be using her cellphone Alex stealthily removed it from her pack and left it in the car. Now, with no clue where they are and their food supplies dwindling, the couple must find a way out of the backcountry. Only problem is, there’s a hungry bear on their trail.
It’s hard to discuss the finer points of Backcountry without delving deep into spoiler territory. This is definitely a slow-burn film, taking its time to get us fully acquainted with these characters so we can truly feel the pathos that comes later when tides have turned. The threat of a bear attack is made obvious through the film’s marketing, yet for the first hour or so the only true threat to the couple is themselves. When people are left vulnerable and scared, that’s when truth and real emotion come pouring out. At the beginning of the film it seems this is Alex’s journey, with Jenn simply along for the ride. She remains passive and yields when he claims to have everything under control. After a brutal incident nearly an hour into the film, it’s clear this journey has been Jen’s all along. She’s forced to undergo a conversion that will test her mettle and endurance; her ability to survive in harsh conditions of which she is entirely unfamiliar.
If you’ve come looking for mauling-a-minute bear attacks, look elsewhere. Go watch Kevin Greutert’s Into the Grizzly Maze (2014), which is basically a slasher film with a bear as the antagonist. For the record, I thought that film was exactly what bear-attack film enthusiasts want to see. If, however, you want to see something atypical – fleshed-out characters we can empathize with, what a concept! – then Backcountry may be your type of entertainment. MacDonald does such a fine job of realizing the struggles inherent to most relationships that you nearly forget there’s supposed to be a killer bear out in the woods. Backcountry takes the less-is-more approach, delivering a gripping tale of two people whose idyllic weekend devolves into one simple task: survive.
Shot using the RED Epic camera, it should come as little surprise the 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps picture looks extraordinary – for the most part. Viewers can expect the typical ultra-clarity, fine details and rich color saturation RED cameras yield. The real eye candy here is the woodlands of Ontario, Canada, which are pretty damn majestic. MacDonald wisely allows the camera linger on serene shots of wild beauty for a few extra beats, allowing viewers to soak in the landscape. Where the picture falters is during scenes at night, when shadow details are non-existent and the black levels look so chunky they’re practically macroblocking. It’s ugly. The good thing is there are few scenes at night, and most of the film is set during the day where lighting keeps the image pretty.
There is a nice sense of immersion that comes from the English DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround sound track. As Alex and Jenn trek deeper into the forest, the canopy comes alive and draws viewers in ever closer. The envelopment never quite reaches a perfect level, but the rears are wisely used to convey the feeling of being in nature. The film’s score is a major plus here, with an opening number that sounds like Morricone and somber, synth-y cues later on when survival is the only agenda. Dialogue comes through clean and clear, with no issues whatsoever.
The audio commentary features writer/director Adam MacDonald, executive producer/actor Jeff Roop and actress Missy Peregrym. This is a fun, loose track where participants discuss character dynamics, the script’s evolution, inspirations, acting techniques and more.
“Behind the Scenes” – This is basically a longer EPK, with the film’s very small cast & crew discussing the story and their respective roles.
“Bear Shots” – The film’s bear trainer needed to see what his bear would be expected to do, so the director shot examples of his intended scenes… using his cat.
A still gallery and trailer are the remaining extras.
- Audio Commentary with writer/director Adam MacDonald and actors Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop
- Still Gallery
- Theatrical Trailer