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‘Backcountry’ is the Candy Crush of the horror movie genre

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Directed by Adam MacDonald
Written by Adam MacDonald
2014, USA

Backcountry is the Candy Crush of the horror movie genre: it’s a well executed, well directed contemporary horror film, that’s enjoyable and re-watchable despite its flaws.

Backcountry (also known as Blackfoot Trail) is the debut feature film from the talented Adam MacDonald, best known for his years of work as a television actor. The film tells the story of a couple who leave the comforts of city life to venture deep into the Canadian hinterlands. However, what they find on their journey challenges both their relationship and their very lives.

Featuring a mostly Canadian cast and crew, writer and director MacDonald crafts a conventional horror film that’s quite good for a directorial debut. Considering that Macdonald shot Backcountry in only a few weeks and on a shoestring budget, it excels technically, is easy to follow, and tells a simple story in an efficient 92 minute runtime.

Aside from a few less than stellar moments, the film is cinematographer Christian Bielz’s best work — far surpassing his efforts on the 2013 movie Silent Retreat. In Backcountry, MacDonald establishes a level of intimacy with the environment that rivals the output of more established directors. MacDonald shot the movie in a way that creates a claustrophobic sense of being lost in a dangerous yet oddly peaceful environment. Backcountry instills a lingering feeling of unease and dread that persists long after blood has run red and body parts get shred to pieces.

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Unfortunately the acting and script aren’t quite up to par. The performances by the film’s two leads, Missy Peregrym as Jenn and Jeff Roop as Alex are hit and miss. While the two actors certainly have chemistry with each other, Roop is fairly wooden throughout most of the film. Peregrym’s acting is equally as unimpressive in the beginning of the movie but excels as the film progresses. Eric Balfour is incredibly effective in the role of Brad, a curious man from another area of town. Balfour steals his scenes and elevates some pretty mediocre dialogue in the process. The script itself is passable at best. Thankfully, as the movie progresses the amount of dialogue diminishes. Although the film is inspired by true events, the story leans towards predictable with plot-induced illogical decision making.

Where Backcountry excels is in its effectiveness in stoking fear. The film’s trailer alone contains the potential to make those who work in the wilderness uneasy about their jobs. Backcountry offers several terrifying, jaw-dropping moments. Any horror film effective enough to make its audience swear off ever going camping again has done its job.

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Those looking for a movie that challenges the boundaries of the horror genre will have to look elsewhere; this film is quite comfortable being just a horror movie. Backcountry is no Cabin in the Woods or Scream. Instead the film is an earnest endeavour to show nature in its most primal state with absolutely no winking at the viewer.

There is an audience for a technically well made horror movie, even one whose biggest weakness is its script. The diverse crowd that attended the film’s advanced screening embraced it with open arms. Is Adam MacDonald capable of creating a film with greater aspirations? Audiences will have to wait until his next feature film to find out.

– Hugh Gordon


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