FEBRUARY 11, 2011
Like a good stew, Backwoods is comprised of bits and pieces from a bunch of movies you’ve already seen, but sort of hits the spot anyway. Plus, a better than usual cast and admirably fast pace make up for its creative shortcomings, AND it’s shot on film, which automatically signals that the folks behind the movie had our best interests at heart. And really, that’s all I ask for anymore.
If you’ve seen the following films, you’ve pretty much already seen Backwoods: Severance (company retreat goes wrong), Wrong Turn (ranger comes to help, gets killed instantly next to his own car), Timber Falls (religious weirdoes kidnapping women and forcing them to breed), and pretty much any movie where our heroes stop for gas at a place run by hick looking folks that are quite obviously not upstanding citizens. But it’s sort of fun to see them all put together like this – I figured it would be a straight up “hicks vs. city folk” affair; the religious cult was not expected. I was also sort of impressed by the fact that the movie opened with a couple being picked off (again like Wrong Turn), but the female pops up a couple of times throughout the movie, and plays into the obligatory “they’re not all dead” final scene as well. It’s like when a band plays one of their signature hits at a concert but they expand the intro or outro to keep you from being totally bored; you’ve heard the jist of it a million times but there’s just enough extra zing to make it its own thing.
And again, the cast is pretty good. Ryan Merriman was pretty much the only good thing about Final Destination 3 (I know folks hate the last one, but it was an improvement over 3 for sure, IMO), so I liked seeing him again, playing the obvious hero because he doesn’t share his co-workers gung-ho mentality, but isn’t a complete spazz like the character played by Jonathan Slavin (Byron from Andy Richter Controls The Universe!). Also, the film sports major stars from two big Oscar-type movies: Mark Rolston from Shawshank Redemption (and also Aliens, respect) and Danny Nucci from Titanic. Then there’s some guy who looks like Bradley Cooper and Haylie Duff, who I guess is like the Billy Baldwin of the Duff family. I recognized some of the other actors as well; in short, it’s not the usual gaggle of generic young folks and then maybe a Bill Moseley or Sid Haig to add “marquee value” – it’s one star away from boasting a theatrical ready cast.
I’m also glad I watched the movie now, as opposed to maybe 2 months ago or more. See, I recently played paintball for the first time, and before then I was always under the impression that the things don’t really hurt unless you’ve been shot point blank. Not at all – even from a distance using low caliber guns (which are harder to aim but hurt less), they can give you a pretty big welt, or even break skin if they connect with a non-protected area. My buddy got a pretty good cut on his neck from when the ball “shattered”, in fact. So when our heroes arm themselves with paintguns, you might be tempted to laugh, but it’s actually a pretty smart idea – a good hit to the face could blind an enemy, and you’d have to be superhuman to keep advancing on someone who was pelting you repeatedly in the chest with the damn things. Keep in mind, these guys are computer programmers on a company retreat, not survivalists.
I just wish the directing/editing was better, and by better I mean less insanely obnoxious. Whoever made the call to cut every 15 frames or so during the scene where Merriman and Duff jump into a lake should be banned from ever working on a feature film again. It’s like they shot the scene from 3 angles and figured they had to use all of them, so they just cut back and forth between them all in rapid succession, which is even more annoying than it sounds (especially since one angle is merely a bit wider and about 10 degrees to the left from the other). Ditto for the reaction shots of the bad guys. There’s seriously something like 40 cuts in 10-15 seconds. There are also a lot of those annoying establishing shots where the camera zooms in and shakes a bit (accompanied by a WHOOOSH or something on the soundtrack), though thankfully they become less frequent as the film goes.
The script has some pretty dumb moments as well. Most preposterous is when Duff is about to be ceremoniously raped by a big brute, and she convinces him to untie her by pretending to be into it. Look, granted these guys are dumb brutes, but the fact that he falls for it so easily (and repeatedly, she makes him undo both hands and one foot and he STILL doesn’t catch on) just makes him a rather weak villain. Nucci’s character also has the most extreme case of denial I’ve ever seen in a film – not only does he refuse to believe that the guy they were shooting at wasn’t one of their coworkers, but later when they find their camp destroyed and gas siphoned, he thinks that it’s the other paintball team messing with them (he also assumed they were the ones to set a pretty advanced trap in the woods – despite the fact that they are, again, computer programmers who didn’t even really want to go). He almost makes up for it with his death scene though – he gets caught in a trap, with several spikes impaling him through the chest and what not, but he’s not dead yet – so he grabs his gun and begins firing at the advancing cult folk while the others get away! BADASS.
Well, whatever. If you’re in the mood for one of these things, you can do better, but you can do a lot worse as well. I wouldn’t go so far as to defend it against a naysayer, but it held my attention for the most part and was refreshingly light on the type of annoyances I’ve come to expect from this genre. I’ll forget everything in a week or so, but thanks for providing 84 minutes of inoffensive entertainment today, Backwoods crew!
What say you?