Release Date: March 20, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Horror
Backcountry Makes You Reconsider Going Into The Woods
Man-versus-nature is one of the most tried-and-true setups for a horror movie. There’s nothing quite like Jaws to make a viewer afraid of the ocean, or The Blair Witch Project to scare someone out of going hiking. But, just because a theme has been done a few (hundred) times doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. Case in point: Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry.
Backcountry is the story of Alex (Jeff Roop from “Vampire High”) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym from “Reaper”), a couple who go away on a romantic camping trip. Jenn is an inexperienced woodsman, but Alex is an avid hiker who is confident that he can navigate the trails and get them to a place he remembers fondly from his youth called the Blackfoot Trail. The first night, the couple meets another hiker named Brad (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Eric Balfour).
Being polite, Jenn invites Brad to join her and Alex for dinner, but Alex is nonplussed by the idea. After a tense and awkward meal, Brad leaves, and the couple hits the trails early the next morning. Soon enough, it becomes clear to Jenn that Alex’s memory of the area is suspect, and the couple finds themselves lost. To make matters worse, while trying to find a trail that will lead them back, the pair accidentally wanders into the feeding territory of a big Black Bear. Between the hungry bear and the creepy Brad, the woods are full of enemies, and all Alex and Jenn want is to go home.
At first glance, it seems that Backcountry would owe a debt of gratitude to William Girdler’s 1976 bear movie Grizzly. In actuality, it’s a much more subtle movie with short bursts of frantic freakouts, more similar to the lost-at-sea movie Open Water or Adam Green’s trapped-in-a-ski-lift masterpiece Frozen. The film was written and directed by Adam MacDonald, his first feature-length movie after cutting his teeth on a handful of short films. MacDonald is more well-known as an actor from his roles in schlocky horror films like Home Sweet Home and Final Draft, but there is nothing schlocky about Backcountry. It’s tense, suspenseful, and downright scary. MacDonald has successfully made the jump from short filmmaker to feature film director.
Of course, Backcountry comes with the standard “based on a true story” tagline that accompanies every horror movie these days, but somehow it’s a little more believable in this case. The film represents events that could actually happen, and the fact that MacDonald and his crew shot the film with real Black Bears only adds to the authenticity and realism – when the audience sees an extreme close-up of a big old bear head, they can tell that it’s no animatronic puppet.
However much of the film is true and however much is fictionalized doesn’t matter; it’s the fact that Backcountry actually COULD happen that makes it so compelling. Backcountry hits on a very basic level. It’s enough to turn even the most avid outdoorsman against camping.
Backcountry was shot in Restoule Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada by cinematographer Christian Bielz (Silent Retreat). Bielz has plenty of experience as a camera operator on several reality TV shows with names like “Canada’s Handyman Challenge” and “The Amazing Race Canada,” but Backcountry is, thankfully, not a found footage film. That doesn’t mean that Bielz didn’t put his documentary chops to good use; Backcountry treats the camera as another character, following Alex and Jenn and circling them while they walk, giving the impression that the viewer is next to them, almost lost with them, but also stalking and preying upon them.
It’s a pretty effective way of making a lost-in-the-woods movie, creating disorientation and unsettlement without making the viewer completely nauseous with motion sickness. Bielz’s camera captures both the beauty and the danger of the forest, and both are integral parts of Backcountry‘s story.
The sound design in Backcountry plays a huge role in the film. Sound editors Christopher Guglick (88, Lost After Dark) and Alexander Aslund (In Darkness, The Dirties) use their tricks sparingly and tastefully, usually just adding in the rustling of some leaves or the flapping of a tent door, so that when a big and loud effect is used, like the roar of the bear or the snapping of a leg bone, it sticks out like, well, a roar of a bear or the snapping of a leg bone. Guglick and Aslund also play with the sonic landscape a bit, turning down the highs and mids in the equalization at times to simulate the temporary deafness that Jenn feels during periods of stress, putting the audience inside her head listening to exactly what she’s hearing. The sound design in Backcountry lets the audience hear what they can’t see, adding another dimension to the movie.
The scariest part of Backcountry is that it could really happen. The getting lost in the woods, the creepy fellow hikers, even the horrifying encounter with the bear, none of it is out of the realm of possibility. These are not ghosts, demons, or even masked serial killers that Alex and Jenn are dealing with, these are real threats that any camper could conceivably come across. In one scene, Alex and Jenn are inside their tent and they hear something snooping around outside. Is it Brad? Is it the bear?
Eventually, the couple learns the terrifying answer, but the not knowing is almost as scary as the finding out. There are some good and gory segments in Backcountry, but the scariest parts are when the film doesn’t show the viewer why they should be afraid – it only lets them know that they should be. And it’s a refreshing kind of scary. No cheap jump scares, just a whole lot of real and honest fear.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Adam MacDonald
- Producer(s): Thomas Michael
- Screenwriter(s): Adam MacDonald
- Cast: Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop, Eric Balfour
- Editor(s): Dev Singh
- Cinematographer: Christian Bielz
- Costume Designer: Ginger Martini
- Casting Director(s): Paul Weber
- Music Score: Frères Lumières
- Country Of Origin: Canada