Backcountry. Written and directed by Adam MacDonald. Starring Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop and Eric Balfour. Rating: 8 (out of 10).
Weekend warriors contemplating an end-ofseason camping trip would do well to see Backcountry beforehand - then spring for an RV rental instead.
Adam MacDonald's first feature is an unexpectedly tense look at what happens when a romantic camping trip in Ontario's backcountry goes terribly wrong for a supposedly seasoned outdoorsman and his jittery girlfriend.
At first, Jenn and Alex (Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop) appear to be the type of people who have it coming: Jenn's hair and makeup are ridiculous for an off-the-grid trip, Alex arrogantly refuses a map.
She's on her phone until the very last second and he badgered her into the trip in the first place: one last selfie and then they take off by canoe, without life jackets. By the 10-minute mark we're hoping something bad will happen.
But what? Should the couple fear the creepy park ranger (Nicholas Campbell) who warns them that their trail of choice is closed and that a hefty fine awaits if he catches them?
As the trail gets narrower and fellow campers become scarce, the twosome morphs into a reluctant threesome after Brad (Eric Balfour), a cocky Irishman who claims to be a for-hire backwoods guide, strides into their campsite with a bounty of fish and a really big knife. A pissing match between the boys ensues, revealing some of Alex's insecurities. Brad takes his sweet time vacating camp, and we suspect he'll be back. Is he the danger lurking in the dark woods?
Next, Jenn worries about bears. Alex dismisses her concerns, saying "we'll be lucky to see anything bigger than a chipmunk." After the couple stumbles across a bear bed, however, the film becomes the stuff of fairy-tale nightmares. (The two black bears who share credit as the one stalking our duo tear up the screen, so to speak, and do for the woods what Jaws did for the water.)
The couple becomes lost, dangerously so. MacDonald makes the most of snapping branches and night shadows to build tension as the couple's unknown predator closes in. "Let's get back in the tent," is their lame strategy, as if a thin layer of nylon is defense against anything.
Despite doing a few things right (like hoisting their food cache up a tree) Jenn and Alex do a lot wrong (no compass). But the number one failure on Jenn's part is not to have listened to her instincts in the first place, after her first "I want to go home" was swept aside.
The director knows that crisis tends to strip people down to basics, and honesty rolls out of our campers as soon as the danger rolls in. We suspected judgment would be meted out right from the get-go, as Jenn mulled over one of those dreaded rate-your-boyfriend quizzes during the car-ride up. Jenn's character defies our expectations by film's end; Peregrym (Rookie Blue) is compelling emotionally but also dives headlong into the physicality of her role, with breathless results.
Congrats to the makeup and effects departments, who have created perhaps the most disgusting bigtoenail moment ever, as well as a few others I won't mention.
Lascivious Irishmen, poor communication, lonely park rangers and bears: armed with these few devices MacDonald gamely shows us how a romantic camping trip gone wrong is no walk in the woods.