We saw Backcountry on Netflix, and it is an effective enough one-trick pony. Unlike The Ruins movie we reviewed earlier, there are no super-natural elements, the threat is just a plain ol’ bear. I laughed and cried, and sometimes it wasn’t ironic!
Backcountry is the 2014 story of a woodsy kind of guy named Alex (Jeff Roop) and his urban girlfriend, Jenn (Missy Peregrym), who are heading into the woods for a late-season camping trip. It’s directed and written by Adam MacDonald.
Early in the movie, we meet a Park Ranger (Nicholas Campbell) who warns the couple that they should probably bring a map and look out for inclement weather, but Alex don’t need none of that shit! He’s a man’s man who knows these woods like the back of his country, and he don’t need no stinking map.
As the couple heads into the woods they quickly end up with more camping trip than they bargained for.
Backcountry is a one-trick pony that relies on a surprisingly well-grounded theme – The woods are scary, and so are wild animals.
Most of the movie left me scratching my head and rewinding to try to make sense of dialog or acting that didn’t seem to fit the situation. Why are they worried about a single snapped tree? Why didn’t the movie make a point of that tree before it was snapped to show the audience that this is certainly out of place?
Lots of little details like this made the movie a little frustrating for me.
Overall, I do appreciate the simplicity of this movie and its premise and the stakes. It was fun to watch with a friend and plays on a very reliable fear, being alone in the woods at night.
Score for Backcountry
Spoilers for Backcountry
Backcountry is a barebones kind of movie. Lots of it is composed of vaguely wandering through the woods, with little to no dialog. There are only four characters in the movie, our two protagonists, the park ranger at the beginning, and Brad in the first third of the movie. Unless you count the bear, I mean.
So beware, those are the stakes.
Check Out The Big Knife on Brad!
After they canoe across the lake and set up camp initially, we meet Brad, a dreamy outdoorsman who starts to chat up Jenn while Alex is off gathering wood. Alex is cagey upon meeting Brad, and this causes a rift in the new relationship.
Brad shares his fish with the two before doling out his machismo upon Alex. Brad reveals that he is an outdoor guide who is well-versed in the area. He also reveals a huge skinning knife and his disdain for the snap judgment that Alex made on him and his kindness.
Brad leaves our couple after dinner, a wink, and a slug of whiskey, which left me extremely uneasy. Humans in the woods are, by far, the scariest thing to me. People represent a very creepy and unreliable X-factor, in a place that’s far away from law and order.
Brad is a great addition to the story because he sets up the stakes, which feel alarmingly high for a hike in the woods.
The Path Less Traveled
As our couple gets on their way, there is a point where Alex chooses the path less traveled. He seems sure of himself, so Jenn follows, and they eventually set up camp. Every night we get to see them sleeping and hear the creepy sounds of the woods. This is effective in all the right ways. Who knows what’s out there?
The couple wakes up each day to a campsite that is a little different than they left it.
As Alex recognizes the signs that they are almost to the waterfall they set out to see, he quickens his pace. When they walk out into the open, they both realize that they are not in the right place at all – they are totally lost.
Until this point in the movie there has been a lot of filler of the couple just walking through the woods, almost like a montage set to bird and woods sounds. It is at this point where the action begins, and thank God. I couldn’t take five more minutes of boring plodding.
Panic Sets In
Jenn is confused and scared, and rightfully so. She throws a series of questions at Alex:
Where are we? I don’t know. How did we get here? I guess I don’t remember the area as I did in High School. Are you stupid? Yes.
The couple has a big argument, and it is revealed that Alex was going to propose to Jenn once they got to the waterfall.
The fight feels like it erupts out of the blue, which it does. It was decently setup with the campfire banter throughout the movie thus far. It’s just a bit comical how it plays out with high school relationship levels of volatility.
Backcountry Bear Attack
One morning they wake up, and their food is gone, they frame a raccoon, but we all know who the culprit really is. They are panicked, foodless, and one toke over the line, trying to make sense of where they are. They go to bed and wake up looking at a big black bear outside the tent.
That bear attacks them, and I do mean it attacks the shit out of them. If I had to draw a picture with words – imagine a bear with speed lines and ultra-roaring powers. Wiggle-cam is in full effect during the attack. Jenn has a can of bear mace in-hand throughout the whole attack, and she gives it a shot once, but mostly she just watches Alex get eaten alive.
I enjoy how true to life this attack is. The bear is just a bear, not some super-bear with a laser attached to its butt. It’s just a bear that does what you might expect a late-season bear to do – eat what it finds. Jenn’s actions, while super annoying, are pretty realistic too. Failing to use the bear spray in her hands is what I might expect from my wife in such a situation.
Run, Jenny, Run
At this point Jenn is running from the bear. I did mention this was a one-trick-pony, right?
At some point she finds the waterfall, climbs down it, suffers a crunchy fall that surely breaks some bones. She finds the canoe, crosses the lake and finds the search party is set to come look for her being headed by – you guessed it, Brad.
She’s definitely going to marry Brad.
Plenty of parts in the chase made me squeamish because of how real and plausible they seemed. It was a pretty obvious ending, but hey, it’s pretty real too.
This is an easy choice for a Friday night movie at home, snuggled up on the couch, poking your friend at every twig snap. Nothing showy or hard to get into, and it really does tap into a primal fear that is magnified artificially by our distance from nature now. Backcountry is fun and ironically funny, and mostly coherent.
If you want a similar but better movie, check out The Ritual, which centers on a group of friends who have to deal with something more sinister in the woods.