TIFF 2014 Review: “Backcountry” (2014)

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Written and Directed by” Adam MacDonald

Cast: Jeff Roopm Missy Peregrym, Eric Balfour

Imagine that an unexpected obstacle ruins your thoroughly planned proposal to your girlfriend. Or maybe there is something unknown ahead of you waiting to interrupt your carefully laid future plans and turn your entire life upside down? What if this difficult and challenging time will shake your values and faith – making you look at everything you believe in from another perspective… All those things might sound really creepy and extremely terrifying. Now add to this story a predatory black bear – which is the source of all the above mentioned danger and disasters. One could think that this is a great start for a fiction story, yet, unfortunately, the story of “Backcountry” written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Adam MacDonald, is based on a shocking true story. It tells about a couple who come face to face with a predatory black bear during their innocent camping trip.

Alex (Jeff Roop) takes his girlfriend to a camping tour into the Canadian wilderness – the Provincial Park. He has a secret mission – to propose to her as soon as they reach his favorite spot of the park – the Backfoot Trail. Although Jenn (Missy Peregrym) is a lawyer and is not fond of such adventurous outgoings, she agrees against her better judgment.  Their camping plan goes well until their privacy is interrupted by a stranger, Brad (Eric Balfour), who flirts with Jenn. This only increases Alex’s desire to reach Blackfoot Trail as soon as possible; so he pays no attention to the path. All that worries him is that the weird stranger might be following them. Thus, they venture further and further into the woods and soon find themselves hopelessly lost. Without food or water supplies, map to guide them, or mobile connection to call for rescue – the couple desperately struggles to find their way back. Yet, none of them can even imagine that this is the least of their problems and the real threat is just ahead of them. Soon the urban couple finds themselves trapped in the territory of a huge black bear. Desperation, dread, panic is all around and the ultimate desire to survive becomes their driving force and the primal task. But the bear minds its own plan and does not hesitate for a second.

Nowadays’ sophisticated audience, who are used to perfectly tailored films in any genre, might at first glance not really trust a debut thriller by a young director, who until now has directed short films. “Backcountry” is Adam MacDonald’s first major film, which is opening on September 8th in Canada. Meanwhile, I should underline that the film already reveals the huge undiscovered potential hidden inside the director. It is always difficult to keep the viewer’s curiosity and interest throughout a film which only revolves around two people lost in the woods with no hope of finding their way back. As the film progresses, you see no one else, but a couple, trying to reach to their favorite (and hopefully safe) place. With such scenario, there are at least two major things, which could define the success or failure of your film – a very well written script and actors who are able to capture your attention and provoke you to keep watching the film until the end. This is why I believe that MacDonald has made a big one step forward with this debut work and will soon be recognized as a promising emerging director.

Specifically, I would like to underline the performance of the two main actors – Missy Peregrym as Jenn, and Jeff Roop, as Alex, who deliver solid performance and make the audience follow them right into the woods to experience their fear, horror as well as the unimaginable, terrifying situations they face along the trip. There is another supporting character, Brad, played by Eric Balfour (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) who is totally unpredictable. He would appear as a dark horse – always keeping hidden what to expect from him. A friend or a foe – this is not an easy guess for the viewer, as Balfour manages to make us believe that he might be the either one.

As a conclusion, I should mention that “Backcountry” is indeed a very well made film – full of suspense and thrill, which will keep you on the edge of your seat. It is a very good and very sad true story, which will make your next journey to the woods incredibly scary. This is one of those films that certainly have the power to impact and frighten the audience enough to make them think twice before planning their next camping tour.

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