In an impressive debut by writer/director Adam MacDonald, BACKCOUNTRY tells a story about survival in the wilderness, loosely based on a true story. It’s surprisingly human, atmospheric, and tense, a little hidden gem.
Alex (Jeff Roop) picks up his girlfriend Jen (Missy Peregrym) for a special weekend camping trip at a provincial park. He’s a bit of a showoff about his wilderness skills, while she’s a city lawyer glued to her phone and going along for the ride. They’re warned not to take a certain trail, as it’s closed, but Alex appears determined, as he’s on a special personal mission.
Then everything goes wrong, and the couple finds itself fighting for their lives in the Canadian wilderness.
I won’t say more about the plot, as it’s very simple, and it rolls out nicely such that it’s best to simply watch the movie even without a trailer. I like how MacDonald played with some horror tropes–a warning not to go somewhere, a red herring threat, even a sense of justice in the disproportionate Greek myth sense. The setting is terrific, both beautiful and ominous. The beauty of this film, however, is in the characters, as most of the film’s intensity and tension comes through their reactions.
As for who the couple is, I think they will strike most people as very familiar. Alex knows the wilderness fairly well and wants to impress Jen, but his showing off means accepting risks and not being able to admit when he’s wrong until it can no longer be avoided. Jen doesn’t like the wilderness but is playing along, and once things go bad, she is furious but trusts Alex’s leadership but demands decisive action. By the end, we see the real people they are in crisis, and it’s actually quite touching.
Overall, BACKCOUNTRY plays to all the strengths of good indie film-making–beautiful natural sets, a focus on character to invest the viewer, and realistic threats. I liked this one a lot.