Based on a true story, a couple go camping in the woods and find that there are more scary things out there in real life than a man in a Ski Mask or a ghostly witch and there is no found footage in sight!
Its very hard these days to sell a story about two campers venturing into the woods and finding themselves in danger. Even before I sat down to watch Backcountry, already my mind was racing in that it was either going to be a Friday 13th rip off or a Blair Witch and that it was yet another found footage horror with stupid people, doing stupid things.
Its to the utmost credit of director Adam McDonald that he has somehow taken a cliché ridden setting and offered fans of horror something new to cling on to. The plot may be old hat, but McDonald manages to grab your nerves and shakes them to a core.
First off the plot and stop reading and skip the next few paragraph or so if you have heard this scenario before. A young couple Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop) are on a short break, backtracking in a secluded area called Blackfoot Trail inside Provincial Park. For Alex its an old place he has visited before and wants to share the memory with his beloved, Jenn while willing to go, you can tell has a tiny bit of doubt.
While venturing into the deep forest in search of this lake that Alex has a grand plan to do something special when they arrive, they encounter an Irish guy Brad (Eric Balfour), who has just been fishing, Holding his catch and an offer of dinner around a bonfire, the three sit down and eat and the conversation becomes menacing. Both men have doubts about each other, Brad stating he is a guide of the area and questioning just how much Alex knowledge he has of the forest, while Alex himself is worried that the man they have just met is a good guy or not.
A tense stand off see’s Brad walk away into the woods and when morning breaks, there is a sense of dread in the air. Has Brad gone? What is making those noises deep in forest? Is it human? A Blair Witch? Or something even worse?
It becomes quite clear as the hours pass that without a map, Alex has no idea what he is doing and where the two of them are actually heading and as they go deeper and deeper into this vast place, cracks begin to appear in their relationship. The final nail is when they arrive at the supposed lake and realisation hits them both that they are in fact in a very worrying place right now.
Survivalist horror films lives and breathes by its central characters, if you don’t care for them then you really are not bothered if they survive or not but thankfully Alex and Jenn are two people that you want to share this journey with. It helps that their relationship comes across as believable on screen and while Alex does stupid things that only people in these situations would do, his faults are not quite as dumb as we have seen in countless other films. There is an air of believability to the proceeding’s that only helps the film narrative.
The setting also drives the horror of the film home. There is always something about the woods and the gorgeous surroundings that makes a film like this sparkle, its why it worked in the Blair Witch and most notably of Australian horrors in recent years and McDonald’s use of the wide shot angles, makes you feel just how lost these two are. Maybe that is why, the sense of dread that it could be you, lost in an alien place where there is no where to turn and all you want is the comfort of your home that makes films like these so terrifying.
Refreshingly, Backcountry is not from the found footage genre which sort of makes it stand out from the much overcrowded entries in horror at the moment. It was nice to see just a film that relies on tension and gripping suspense, without jerky movements and for me having once more to scream at my TV “Just put the camera down your idiot”.
If you have no idea what or who is menacing the couple then stop reading, just glance at my star rating and then seek this film out, as I didn’t have no idea when I sat down and watched and it enhanced the whole movie for me. The only reason I am mentioning the bogeyman is because of those who are still wondering if they can stomach another film set in these surroundings.
All OK! Here goes! Sometimes it doesn’t take a man in a Ski Mask to rise once more from Camp Crystal Lake to scare the crap out of the viewer (even if Jason was never scary). Sometimes in horror all you need is a thing that people can relate to, its why JAWS will always be a masterpiece because it made those watching fearful of ever going into the sea and coming face to face with a great white shark.
Backcountry plays on your fears of going camping and coming across a hungry bear. Like Open Water that used real sharks, here there is no CGI in sight and what we are faced with is one of the most scariest animals to walk this earth. When Alex and Jenn are asleep in their tent and you can see the imagery of the bear sniffing outside, I was holding on to the arm of my chair and when the eventual attack occurs, I was transfixed at the horror in front of me.
McDonald has delivered quite possibly one of the best bear attacks put on screen, its a mind numbing blast to the senses that even now, two days after watching, I can’t quite shake out of my head.
In one full horrific scene, Backcountry becomes the ultimate survival film and my only gripe is that I wish the film was maybe 15 minutes longer as I was so invested in the characters and their hopes of getting out alive, I just didn’t want the film to end. It may come across like a negative critical remark but in reality its the highest compliment as there are not many films I watch, I wish not to see the final credits roll.
Shot on a tight 16 day schedule, McDonald manages to create a thrilling ride, full of tension that will leave you in a cold sweat and in his debut 90 minutes as a director, he shows that he could be one to look out for in the horror field for years to come. It may be a plot that you have seen before but rarely do they manage to get the excitement levels going as good as this
One thing I can promise you, if you are a camper then it may put questions in your head about ever going again and when a film gives you those doubts, then you know it has delivered the goods.
4 Hatchets Out Of 5