Urban residents Alex and Jenn are hoping to have a fun camping trip in the forests of a provincial park that Alex has known from his childhood. And for Alex, the trip means something a bit more than just taking Jenn on her first camping excursion. However, the couple find out that they’re less than prepared for surviving in the woods when they get lost without a map or a phone, and to make matters worse, a large bear has been stalking them throughout their trip. Will they survive with appendages and limbs intact?
Director: Adam MacDonald
Actors: Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym, Eric Balfour
Year of Release: 2014
Adam MacDonald’s directorial debut Backcountry takes a couple of city dwellers and throws them into the Canadian countryside with a simple but effective premise. Alex (Jeff Roop) thinks he’s an outdoorsman based on his past experience in the woods, and his bravado encourages him to skip bringing a map in favor of his directional skills. Jenn (Missy Peregrym), on the other hand, hasn’t really been camping at all and has a difficult time pulling herself away from her lawyer job. Right from the start, it’s clear that this backcountry escapade isn’t the greatest idea: Alex probably should come prepared with at least some sort of failsafe in case they happen to get lost, and Jenn probably shouldn’t be going off trail due to her inexperience. Lucky for us viewers that these characters make some poor decisions, leading them straight to bear territory.
MacDonald’s a prominent actor but Backcountry is his first foray into a full-length feature. Yet the film’s simplicity is probably its best quality. The audience is forced to get to know Alex and Jenn because we’re taken along on this camping trip as well, but we’re a little bit safer. MacDonald does some good characterization first and foremost, showcasing Alex’s need to impress when Brad (Eric Balfour), a park tour guide, stops in to have dinner with the couple on their first night. Early on there’s some tension between the two men, mostly on Alex’s part: he’s uncomfortable and a little jealous, and Brad picks up on that by goading him on even more.
It’s a suspenseful moment, though, once Brad begins to legitimately antagonize Alex. There’s a moment where Backcountry could be an entirely different kind of film, inspired by thrillers like Wolf Creek; but the moment passes, and MacDonald uses it as a means to emasculate Alex, to put him in an uncomfortable position where he feels he needs to prove himself to Jenn.
Backcountry could be critiqued because its characters’ poor decisions, and there are certainly moments where that feels like a flaw more than a conscious decision. However, some choices are excused because of MacDonald’s opening scenes – Alex needs to prove himself, and Jenn is simply inexperienced, and both of them are thrown after this encounter. While other elements of the film tend to lean on forgetting important items in the characters’ arsenal, Backcountry does a satisfying job ensuring that most of the characters’ actions are believable, if dumb.
Ultimately, though, Backcountry‘s biggest focus is on the black bear itself, which only really comes into the film after its halfway mark. The bear attacks are a highlight, and all of them seem pretty realistic; it’s just unfortunate that the animal isn’t a threat for much of the film. Backcountry runs a little long in its backend, and the film would probably be more comfortable at around 80 minutes. Still, the tension of seeing a giant black bear running at the characters is palpable, and as killer animal films go, this one’s a truer, more believable account than most.
Backcountry‘s not a perfect film and it might lose some viewers before it even gets to its bear attacks, but MacDonald’s first feature length film is mostly successful thanks to suspenseful directing and realistic bear encounters. Very little of it is uplifting, but it’s a good moral about not exaggerating your own abilities, especially when it’s misplaced self-confidence.
There isn’t a whole lot of violence but MacDonald throws some nature-related gore our way with a mauled deer and Alex picking his dead toenail off. The bear attack also contains some brutal special effects.
- Alex and Jenn bring along a road flare but unfortunately Jenn does not use it at an opportune time. Seems like a missed opportunity.
- Based on a true story of Mark Jordan and Jacqueline Perry. The roles were reversed for the film however.
- This is a fake park in Canada, but black bear attacks are definitely real. Stay away from Canada!