Backcountry Movie Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Released by IFC Midnight
Written and directed by Adam MacDonald
2015, 91 minutes, Not Rated
Movie premiered on March 20th, 2015
Missy Peregrym as Jenn
Jeff Roop as Alex
Eric Balfour as Brad
Jenn and Alex are a relatively happy couple; they disagree on a few things but they challenge and support one another. Alex, between jobs and wanting to impress Jenn another way, decides to take her camping out in the Canadian backcountry. The Blackfoot Trail was his favorite as a child and he wants to make her first camping trip memorable. She, while excited to join him, just wants to survive the several days away from society and her Blackberry. Their very first night they meet a mysterious stranger wandering suspiciously close to their camp. And after that, someone or something is always one step behind them, stalking their every move until a climactic and horrifying ending.
First and foremost, I am extremely impressed by Christian Bielz’ camera work in Backcountry. Over-the-shoulder shots seem to foreshadow something lurking in the distance, constantly keeping the viewer on edge. When Jenn (Missy Peregrym) realizes she must run for her life, a sweeping overhead shot shows us just how deep she is and how far she needs to go in the blink of an eye. I’ve read to get a particularly harrowing climbing shot, he strapped himself into a harness to hang off a waterfall to catch Jenn in just the right angle. The way he films feels as though the camera is the viewer’s eye, exploring the scene, piece by minuscule piece, in full glorious detail.
Missy Peregrym is an outstanding lead. Her performance never strays from genuine: her trepidation over the trip, her quiet resentment of her boyfriend when he gets jealous or cocky, her blind fear when faced with the finite possibility of dying alone in the woods, are all spot-on. Jeff Roop, playing Alex, provides a solid counterpart. While some of the lines he is given come across callous or arrogant, he never judges them or the character he plays, and Alex is allowed to a three-dimensional person rather than a caricature horror-story boyfriend. Eric Balfour is alarming smooth and threatening as Brad. While his scenes are brief, he has some a commanding presence his aura lingers throughout the rest of the movie. He also does a mean Irish accent.
The only thing that bothers me a bit about Backcountry is a well-traveled scene between Alex and Brad that becomes a near-literal pissing contest. The alpha male trying to impress the lone woman is somewhat overplayed (see Hangar 10, Hunger Games, Twilight, every YA novel you’ve ever read, etc.). After Brad establishes his dominance and leaves, Alex takes out his embarrassment and frustration on Jenn. While this could be MacDonald making a point about useless pride damning us, Backcountry doesn’t take a strong stance on whether Alex’s behavior at that time was inappropriate. He never even apologizes, even when Jenn does for snapping at him for not bringing a map.
Despite that hiccup, Adam MacDonald's debut full-length feature shows no evidence of first-time jitters. Strong acting, creative camerawork, and a solidly story make Backcountry a nail-biting 90-minute trip to the woods. You’ll never go camping again. You’re welcome.