Movie Review: ‘Backcountry’ Reminds Us Relationships Can Be A Bear

Greetings again from the darkness. When the poster for a new movie compares itself to a genuine classic like JAWS, it immediately evokes skepticism and doubt. The first feature film from writer/director Adam MacDonald is based on a true story and somehow blends elements of horror and man vs. nature into a suspense-filled, gory, survivalist tale of a messy relationship.

Alex (Jeff Roop) has romantic visions as he and girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym) head off into a Canadian Provincial Park for backpacking and camping. Alex can’t wait to show his citified girl his favorite lake lookout … the place he used to hike in his youth. It doesn’t take long for the cracks to start showing- both in the relationship and in Alex’s outdoorsman skills. With the slow build of dread, we know the couple is headed for something unpleasant … thanks to the preview, and the fact that a movie about a relaxing camping trip would be pretty boring.

The Park Ranger (Nicholas Campbell) just shakes his head as Alex refuses his offer of a trail map … a not so subtle jab at men for never asking directions. That combined with Alex poking fun at Jenn’s road flare, bear spray and cell phone usage provide the foreshadowing necessary for any viewers who appreciate being told where the story is headed. After a canoe ride, the couple hikes to the camp site where they encounter their first brush with nature: a rugged Irish guide (Eric Balfour) who offers his catch of the day served with a heavy dose of machismo. We are left to wonder if and when and how this creepy dude might again appear.

Of course, it’s only a matter of time until the couple is lost and we (and they) realize that’s the least of their concerns. See, their lack of communication has landed them right in the middle of black bear country … hungry black bears. A couple’s worst nightmare (a weekend with an incompatible partner) turns into a camper’s worst nightmare (being hunted by a bear). It’s at this point that Ms. Peregrym takes over the movie and we finally have someone to pull for.

Director MacDonald does follow the Jaws template in teasing us with danger and not showing the bear until deep into the movie, but any other comparison would be quite a stretch. Still, there is plenty of tension and we even get that odd line between horror and humor – involving Jenn’s diamond grab in the heat of the moment. Nothing is held back in the fight between man and bear, and we see more than enough in the aftermath.

The park makes for an incredibly beautiful setting and a stunning backdrop for hiking and canoeing and bear fighting. The film could have been titled “Dummies Go Camping”, but really the commentary on modern relationships is probably more telling than the reminder of Nature’s power. Finally, a tip of the cap to Mr. MacDonald for including the Dwight Twilley song “Looking for the Magic” in the initial car trip … great song and fitting to the theme.

​Opening March 20th theatrically in NYC & VOD and March 27th theatrically in Los Angeles.

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