Netflix Recommendation: “Backcountry” Is A Terrifying Man Vs. Nature Thriller
I once wrote a college paper, for my analysis of film class, on how “Jaws” was the scariest movie of all time. Not because of the usual horror elements like horrific gore, or a masked killer stalking a bunch of terrified teens, but because of the psychological effect it had on viewers. The giant, man-eating shark scared the crap out of me as a kid, but not me alone. The summer of ’75 (the summer Jaws was unleashed on audiences) saw record low attendances for multiple beaches on the East coast. Coincidence? I think not. I mean, could you watch that movie and then go for a dip in the ocean? Sure it is silly to think a great white would actually go stalker/serial killer on a trio of men in a small fishing boat, but the idea of being trapped in an unfamiliar environment, and with a deadly predator looming, is scary enough to temporarily change people’s feelings about putting themselves in a similar situation. It’s kind of like the time my junior high biology teacher showed the class pictures of a cancer-ridden lung, to scare us away from cigarettes. Graphic but effective.
In his debut feature film, writer/director Adam MacDonald does an excellent job at tapping into that same fear. The setting and dangers are different, but the feeling I got as I watched it was the same. The fact that the movie is based on a true story made that feeling even more intense. I felt, while watching “Backcountry”, that fear of being in a helpless situation in which I am not the apex predator. The fear that, that situation could easily happen to me in real life. A fear that the next time I go camping I might not come back. When a movie can install a fear in you that changes what you are willing to do with your free time, you know that it’s creator succeeded in something impressive.
Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop) are an adorable, loving couple who we meet on their way to a deep woods, camping trip. Macdonald does a good job at making his two leads likeable, and letting us get to know them, on the car ride there. They are affectionate and silly with each other, and seem like the down-to-earth type of couple you would meet at your local pub.
Peregrym does an excellent job at portraying Jenn as confident and strong, but also nervously aware of the possible dangers that exist in nature. Armed with bear spray, a flare, and her trusty cell phone, she still constantly warns Alex of her anxiety about going deep into the uncharted, Canadian wilderness. Roop’s Alex is overconfident and tries, in a manly, “Fear is for the weak” way, to convince Jenn that he is a more-than-capable guide and there is nothing to worry about. “We’ll be lucky to see anything bigger than a chipmunk.”, he jokes.
Well… it isn’t long before Alex and Jenn are lost, and the dangers Jenn was worried about begin to manifest. The dreadful feeling that they may have to fight for their very lives begins to slowly seep in. The second half of the film consists of the couple trying to survive one horrific experience after another, and shows the consequences of approaching mother nature with an arrogant attitude.
Peregrym and Roop both give very strong, nuanced performances, and Eric Balfour also gives a nice turn as a creepy wilderness guide. I really have nothing but good things to say about the other aspects of the movie as well. The film’s pace is perfect and the cinematography by Christian Bielz is gorgeous, and blends with the eerie silence of the wooded setting to create a sense of unease, even before the real terror begins.
“Backcountry” is a solid debut from MacDonald, and a nice entry into the “Man vs. nature” sub-genre. Such a good entry in fact that I will probably never go camping again! Thanks, Mr. Macdonald.