Backcountry (2014)

AUGUST 29, 2015


On the bonus features for Backcountry, one of the producers proudly explains that they wanted to make this movie to show the woman becoming the hero and (spoiler) surviving, in a manner that suggests that such a thing never happens. Which is odd, because while I liked the movie, all but one of the ones it reminded me of while watching also had the woman survive, to the point where I actually had to stop and think if there was EVER one where the male lived when the female did not - even The Reef, which is based on a true story in which the male survived, was changed to let the female live. Needless to say, it's pretty standard in this sub-genre to keep the female lead alive (if battered), or just kill them both like Open Water, so I have no idea what the hell he was talking about.

But after 16+ years of DVD supplements, I'm used to listening to/rolling my eyes at producers who assume every horror movie is misogynist garbage (and that they're reinventing the wheel), so I won't hold it against the film. I AM a bit puzzled that they hide their bear for so long, even trying not once but twice to suggest that a human villain might be the thing that turns our hero couple's idyllic vacation into a nightmare. I mean, they had to have known that the film's marketing would be BEAR! BEAR BEAR BEAR! BEAAAAAAAAAARRRR! so the fact that it's treated as almost a surprise in the movie is kind of odd, and also puts the film dangerously close to "boring and padded" territory. I mean, sure, we expect (need!) some time to get to know our characters and establish the possible threat, but it's literally an hour into the movie (almost to the second) before he finally shows up, and then after some business he exits again for the final 15 minutes. And I don't mean they hide him, like Jaws ; there isn't an opening attack on some randoms, or a warning from a local - there's just no bear.

Then again, it's a real bear, in real shots with the actors, so you can understand why his presence had to be reduced (why they couldn't crib from Jaws and just have him doing stuff off-screen, I'm not sure). The editing is frustratingly quick-cut during the more exciting scenes, and I'd like to think it was just cutting around whatever safety measures they had in place, or because they could only get a few frames, but it's just as obnoxiously hyper-edited during non-bear scenes, like when our hero Jenn (Missy Peregrym) tumbles down a hill and we get something like half a second of GoPro footage tossed in as she falls. I can't and won't understand what the appeal of this sort of editing is when you're obviously sending the actor (or her stunt double) down a hill anyway - zoom out a bit and show it in longer takes! It denies us the experience of feeling each crunch and smack.

That said, the big bear attack is pretty tense, and surprisingly gory - director Adam MacDonald does not shy away from blood or prosthetic makeup in this sequence, allowing us a glimpse of a half torn-off face, a mostly eaten leg, etc. Some of the things he tries don't really work for me (muting the sound at random points, for example), but it's still a pretty harrowing sequence that is worth the wait - I just couldn't help think if it should have came maybe 10 minutes earlier. See, apart from the boyfriend poopooing Jenn's insistence on bringing bear spray along for their camping trip (it might as well be called Foreshadow Spray), there isn't much of a hint at a bear presence at all until the half hour mark, at which point you get little clues: a footprint, a possible bear howl, etc. And those are good to buy the movie some time, but the give and take is slightly extended too far - it's basically a spoiler to say the bear shows up at all, considering where it happens in the film. This movie will forever be described as "A couple encounters a bear" and based on when that happens it'd be like describing Halloween as a movie about a babysitter who leaves her kids alone to check on her friends across the street.

And the couple's standard relationship woes aren't all that novel, either - Jenn works too much and emasculates him! He doesn't hit the marks on boyfriend quizzes from a magazine! It finally gets interesting when Alex gets them lost and she starts shouting at how he always fucks everything up and he's a loser... and then he admits he was going to propose to her. Again, this is nothing new - horror movies are littered with engagement rings being put on after the would-be groom has been killed, but I can't recall one where the guy was called a loser right before it would have happened. I only wish the bear had attacked right then and there and REALLY killed the moment. However, they DO introduce an amazing wrench in the works via Eric Balfour, as an Irish (huh?) outdoorsman type who takes a liking to Jenn and engages in one of the longest pissing matches in cinema history with Alex - it's like 10 straight minutes of Balfour baiting this guy at every other line (right down to overruling his choice of potatoes or veggies to cook along with the fish he made), and at one point it gets just as tense as the damn bear scene. Again, it's part of a bizarre attempt to make us think that Balfour might be a serial killer or something, but even though their ruse failed it didn't make the scene any less interesting (it's certainly better than the equally bungled bid to make the park ranger look suspicious too).

So as far as these kind of movies go, it's not as good as Frozen or Open Water, but it's a lot better than The Canyon and Open Water 2. If you saw Thirst, which was this but in the desert instead of the woods (and wolves instead of a bear), it's on par with that - a harmless, well-made movie that will remind you why you should never ever travel anywhere. Also, hilariously, in that review I mentioned my weird theory on how a couple's position in bed determines their fate, and this movie is another piece of evidence that my theory is correct, something I had noted long before I re-read my Canyon review (I didn't even remember that I had written this goofy idea down at all, let alone in a review I'd be namechecking). I think the key to enjoying these survival movies depends on how likely you are to find yourself in the situation depicted, which is why I loved Frozen (I ski!) but had more issues with woods/desert ones, since I'm the kind of guy who prefers family campgrounds with electricity and running water than "roughing it".

Oh, most of the bonus features are pretty standard; the commentary has the director and the actors so you get a little bit of everything, though some of it is repeated on the making of piece, and it's far from a must-listen. However, I flat out LOVED "Bear Shots", which is a collection of homemade footage showing the kinds of shots that the director needed of the bear, which was requested from the bear's trainer. Playing the bear in these shots: the director's cats, with accompanying growls and scary music - if you're a cat owner like me it will probably be pretty damn amusing to you. The trailer and a still gallery is also included, because by law they have to be on a Scream Factory release, I think.

What say you?


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