Today in Rockwood Cinema Review (with a focus on outdoor movies), we are going to take a look at Backcountry (2014) (also released as Black Foot Trail). Directed by Adam MacDonald and based on a true incident involving a bear attack that occurred at Missinaibi Lake Provincial Park in Ontario, Backcountry was also coincidentally filmed in Ontario (with a little in Manitoba). It stars Missy Peregrym (of Dick Wolf’s FBI), opposite Jeff Roop, along with Eric Balfour and veteran Canadian actor, Nicholas Campbell (Naked Lunch, Street Legal) making a cameo. Backcountry manages, with a small cast, crew, budget and setting, to create a compelling and terrifying story that will literally crush your dreams of camping forever (or at least for the time being). And if you do return, you will always be on guard while camping after this one.
Backcountry is a nature / survival movie that follows an urban couple, Alex (played by Jeff Roop) and Jenn (played by Missy Peregrym) as they deal with the perils of a portage into the deep woods during the off-season. Besides making all the wrong moves, and brushing paths with an unsavoury traveller, Brad (played by Eric Balfour), things get particularly bad when they are accosted by a killer bear. Now, this may all sound like familiar territory, there are many bear attack movies, going as far back as 1966’s The Night Of The Grizzly and more recently in The Revenant (2015) with Leonardo Dicaprio, but there is something really unique and uniquely real about Backcountry.
Backcountry displays a genuine, intimate knowledge (or at least a familiarity) of the camping experience, even the build up and anticipation of the trip out into the woods is palpable here. Furthermore, they manage to understand everything that’s unsettling about camping in this movie: the sounds, the visuals, the vulnerability of being out there. They know how to push buttons: how the fire only illuminates your immediate surroundings, how tents really give you this false sense of security. How, once you are in a tent you can see nothing, yet you hear everything. The slightest sound, even a mouse scuffling through the grass, can get your imagination stirring, except this is no mouse.
This was made even personal, in that the setting is very familiar to those who camp in Ontario (or approximate to it). Primarily, Backcountry was filmed in Restoule Provincial Park (here called ‘Nabookaa Park’), which is not far from Algonquin and North Bay. So, the forest feels like very familiar territory, personally. In fact, I am pretty sure they are initially shown driving on Highway 11 too, but really it could be anyway highway travelling North of Ontario. As soon as they get to the park, it also prompted guesses on where they were (because it seemed familiar). They do a good job staging the anticipation of the journey. Let’s just say, never has a movie both simultaneously made me want to go camping and then (wham) never want to go backwood camping again.
I thought Adam MacDonald did a good job of immersing the audience in the couple’s experience and sharing in the terror. At times you will feel compelled to throw something at the screen or overt your eyes. It is pretty intense and really compels one’s natural instincts of fight or flight. Yes, the characters make bad decisions but this is done precisely to antagonize the audience. We watch it unfolding, whether through pride or stupidity, we cannot save the couple.
Although the story seems to deviate a little from the real events, you should watch Backcountry as a guide of what not to do, and I do not mean cooking potatoes from raw after you have already cooked the fish (which does happen in the movie). I am talking about: no map, food in the tent, etc. However, this should be essential watching for campers (over the age of 16). However, it should be noted, that predatory black bears (that prey on humans) are rare, so it should be watched as a cautionary (thrilling) tale and not the norm. For more information, here is Canada Parks website on black bears.
The original score is by Frères Lumières, who creates an compelling moody, rock/ambient soundtrack (similar to Mogwai or Godspeed! You Black Emperor). The soundtrack also features, The Dwight Twilley Band’s “Looking For Magic“, whose “I’m On Fire” is also featured on Cottage Country Vol. 7.
Length: 1h 32m
Best time to watch: A lot of the scenes actually take place during the day and still manage thrills. I would say watch it during the day but might be good for early evening watch as well. Not for the faint of heart.
The Dwight Twilley Band is featured Cottage Country Vol. 7 on: