PLOT: A late twenty-something†couple find themselves facing off against deadly elements on a romantic getaway in the wilderness.
REVIEW: There is nothing more powerful than mother nature and all the mysteries she holds. Any good man vs. nature feature understands this very concept. And in the new indie suspense thriller BACKCOUNTRY, writer/director Adam MacDonald takes us deep into this world - think of it as OPEN WATER with bears. For a first time feature film, MacDonald does a pretty incredible job at presenting the deep, dark unexplored forest. It is a place where two people find themselves lost and desperate for survival. It helps that the couple in question are an engaging pair who are clearly in over their heads, making a number of questionable choices that lead them further from safety.
Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop) are a late-twenties couple off to a secluded and scenic area called Blackfoot Trail deep inside Provincial Park. It is supposed to be a romantic getaway, but things soon become questionable when the possibility of bear attacks arise. Things get even more strange when an Irish outdoorsman named Brad (Eric Balfour) shows up only to belittle Alex. Once the stranger leaves, every single sound and move they make begins to dredge up some fear that they may not be alone. On the course of their adventure Alexís memory of this very happy place begins to fade, leading the couple deeper into the woods. And when they realize something deadly is out there with them, they must fight to survive in the middle of nowhere.
For his first feature, MacDonald certainly has done a fine job of creating necessary tension and claustrophobia. Along with cinematographer Christian Bielz, he is able to capture this beautiful landscape especially well. Considering this was a sixteen day shoot, it is all the more amazing that they were able to utilize the wilderness and the not always cooperative weather. With a mixture of extreme close-ups as well as some very gorgeous wide shots, MacDonald took full advantage of this incredible location. Equally impressive was a very brutal bear attack, one that is all the more intense because like OPEN WATER and the sharks, they used real bears for much of it. So once things get bloody, it is far more disturbing, aside from a few too many quick cuts and blurry images. However, it was better than the heavier dosage of CGI a larger budgeted film might have utilized.
When it came to the lead performances, Peregrym and Roop are a sweet and appealing pair. For much of the film, the two actors must create a realistic relationship, and they do a fine job. Occasionally some of the dialogue seems a bit forced, but nearly every time this happens something charming quickly pulls you back in. In the end it is Peregrym who really has the toughest role, and she pulls it off nicely. I was rooting for these two, so when things get really dark, it was easy to be invested in their adventure.
The film also features a couple of strong genre actors. The very talented Nicholas Campbell shows up briefly as a ranger, and Eric Balfour arrives to stir the pot a little and create a slightly uncomfortable situation. The sequence leads the audience to believe the possibility of one possible scenario, yet it doesnít quite work. In fact, this entire section seems a bit preposterous. While it may be based on a real life experience from MacDonaldís past, it didnít quite fit into this particular story. I can appreciate what they were trying to do, but it felt a bit strange and not all that compelling. In fact, it kind of made Roopís generally funny and charming Alex seem a little infantile.†This is not a great moment for the character.
As a fan of man vs. nature flicks, it is great to see something take this subject matter seriously. And it genuinely works. Sure one sequence early on was a bit ridiculous, but it did create a slight bit of tension which ultimately paid off slightly near the end. Yet the beauty of the forest and the devastation of survival are all well played making BACKCOUNTRY an impressively intense viewing experience.