Movie Review – Backcountry (2014)

I’m always looking for a good horror movie, but these days it’s like panning for gold in a public fountain. The good horror movies are few and far between, the quality is often stranded between bleak post-apocalyptic films and gritty thrillers. When I saw this movie on Netflix I saved it on my list for two reasons. One, because I’m terrified of bears, and two because this movie is about a bear chasing a couple in the Canadian wilderness. Go Canada!

Backcountry follows Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) on a hiking trip deep into a Provincial Park of Canadian wilderness. Alex wants to take Jenn on a trail he followed as a kid, hoping they can catch a glimpse of wonder, peace, and relaxation. Unfortunately, things go very, very badly for this couple.

Fans of shows like the OC and Six Feet Under might recognize Eric Balfour. Balfour returns in Backcountry to play a smarmy Irish trail guide. He does a fantastic job, walking the line between threatening, creepy, and greasy with skill. When the Irish trail guide joins Alex and Jenn at the campfire for dinner, I started to question what this movie was really about. The bear represents the chasm between Jenn and Alex, and the Irish trail guide represents all the threats that come to loom above people prepared to embrace monogamy. Really, this movie isn’t about a bear, it’s about two people in a relationship preparing to take the next step and all the fears that accompany that transition.

The direction in Backcountry is tremendous, displaying odd-angled shots of the Canadian wilderness that really drives home how wild it is. We see shots from the ground of the bare-branched canopies and shots from above that display the monotonous, red, yellow, and orange leaves.

The bear is handled with subtle elegance until things reach their inevitable and terrible conclusion. This movie terrified me. I don’t want to go into too much detail as to what happened, and I want to give the caveat that bears are among my worst fears. I think being eaten by a bear would be the worst way to die, or at least one of them. Bears don’t care if their prey is alive or not before they start feasting, and I’ve had many nightmares about being eaten alive, legs first. This movie isn’t likely to change that.

What I will say is that Backcountry does a lot with what’s obviously a low budget. The scariest scenes were of Alex and Jenn in the tent at night, where creaking branches and snapping twigs provide most of the terror. We can only imagine what waits outside, and the possibilities are much worse in the wilderness than they would be in the safety of the urban jungle.

I have only one complaint about the film. The movie’s antagonistic bear is a black bear. This bothers me because typically black bears are not aggressive towards human beings. They’re scavengers, and much more afraid of humans than some other species’ of bear within the same genus. I would’ve preferred if the titular bear in Backcountry was a grizzly bear. Not just because grizzly bears look scarier, but because I know a lot about bears and having a black bear hunting humans did rattle my suspension of disbelief. A grizzly bear hunting humans would simply be a fact of nature.

Obvious comparisons to the 1997 film The Edge, starring Alex Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins, come to mind, but I feel Backcountry differentiates itself from this classic survival horror film.

Overall, Backcountry is a very scary survival horror film that focuses on character, human relationships, and the human reaction to tragedy. In other words, it’s better than ninety-nine percent of modern horror films.

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