Starring Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym, Eric Balfour,
I am just going to be upfront and honest, “Backcountry” is one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen. Maybe it’s because I am from the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina, maybe it’s because actor turned writer/director Adam McDonald studied bears and their habits for years before filming. Either way “Backcountry” is an off the charts, stress level film about a couple’s hike into the Canadian wilderness. Seeing a fair share of horror genre films is just an occupational hazard, and films about ghosts, spirits, demons, or deranged psychopaths don’t scare or unnerve me, because Hollywood caters those films for predominately jumpy and easily frightened teenagers. “Backcountry” is a completely different animal, and there is nothing more terrifying than the five words that appear on screen in the beginning, “based on a true story”.
Alex (Roop) reminds girlfriend Jenn (Peregrym), a city lawyer, that he has hiked this trail and off trail many times. Jenn, nervous about her first camping trip, comes prepared with a whistle, a road flare and bear spray. “You’re not gonna need it,” Alex says as they disembark from the canoe in one of the most serene and stunning natural landscapes in the national park. Alex’s arrogance refusing a map, withholding information about the bear print in the mud, and constantly trying to impress his girl all lead to a dire situation. “Why do you always have to show off, why couldn’t my first camping trip be something simple,” Jenn says when her fears become realty. “It could be worse, at least we are together”.
McDonalds’s simple telling of this story is so effective I wish other filmmakers could understand you don’t need all that extra “noise” to create something, in this case, that is unforgettable.
No prior knowledge of the film will likely provide a more heightened experience, but be warned, this is not for the faint of heart . Except for the score, there isn’t anything about “Backcountry” that feels like a horror film besides the foreboding nature and the way Alex tries to conceal his own fears. Alex and Jenn have an awkward and uncomfortable visit from a tour guide (Balfour), which initiates the unsettling feeling for viewers in the early moments of the film. Peregrym and Roop are excellent in developing these characters into people we understand and in turn begin to worry about, all in under 90 minutes.
For a realist like myself, there is nothing more terrifying than nature in combination with the unknown (i.e. sharks in the Gulf). McDonalds’s simple telling of this story is so effective I wish other filmmakers could understand you don’t need all that extra “noise” to create something, in this case, that is unforgettable. Everything is presented in a natural way, from the seemingly single camera angle to concise editing choices. The bear doesn’t show up until 48 minutes into the film, but McDondald has done such an exceptional job with character development and creating a desperate situation that the film is a solid suspense ride from start to finish.
One of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen.