By: Mark Barber
Adam Macdonald’s Backcountry is a terrifying mix of Jaws and Blair Witch, but manages to avoid the usual kitschy pastiche of recent Canadian genre films. Unlike the campiness of Wolfcop and Hobo with a Shotgun, Backcountry is an intense, serious horror film.
Inspired loosely by tragic events, Backcountry follows a Toronto couple, Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym), as they become lost in a camping trip in a northern Ontario park. As promised by the film’s promotional material, they become the target of an aggressive black bear.
Like Jaws, the film intensifies slowly, building up incrementally to the first presence of the bear. Instead of focusing purely on the film’s central antagonist, the first half is devoted to an effective articulation of being mentally and physically lost. Like Blair Witch, the horror of this part isn’t about violence; it’s about slowly losing your mind.
When the bear finally appears in the third act, Backcountry becomes distressingly real in its depiction of a bear attack. Viewers who were already unsettled by the psychological breakdown of the lost couple will find themselves mortified by this verisimilar third act.
Both Roop and Peregrym deserve praise for their physically demanding performances. Peregrym in particular shines here in a strong female role. Peregrym brings an intensity and a sense of instinctual supremacy to Jenn, who often challenges her boyfriend on his supposedly unmitigated memory of the surrounding area. Much of this tragedy is a result of Alex’s bullheaded masculinity and his reluctance to admit when he’s wrong (or even look at a map, for that matter).
Under Macdonald’s sharp direction and buoyed by strong performances, Backcountry is a shocking traumatic experience. Not only for the characters, but for the audience as well.
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