Posted by Joel Copling on April 3, 2015

"Backcountry" is building a reputation as "that bear-attack movie," but that only partially makes up what is on writer/director Adam MacDonald's mind. To wit, the bear only shows up with roughly half an hour to spare in the movie's 92 minutes, by which point the movie shifts gears from a relationship drama of wavering effectiveness and turns to the horrifying survival drama the the ads sell. Where the film succeeds--with reservations--is the point at which the movie shifts its priorities: Suddenly, in spite of a script that unsubtly defines their histories and motivations through dialogue and gender politics, we have grown to care for these people under the microscope of, yes, an attacking bear.

The people in question are Brad (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym), a dating couple set to go on a hike through the Blackwood Trail to a lake that the former remembers from further back into his youth than he admits to his girlfriend. His plan is to propose to her at the edge of that lake, of course, though she does not know that. It's a surprise--just as his getting them both lost when taking the wrong fork in a road miles back is the nasty kind of surprise. They are left to their own devices on a trail that is technically closed for the time being, according to a park ranger (Nicholas Campbell), from whom Brad refuses to take a map of the woods.

And obviously, there is wildlife in these woods. First, there is an uninvited guest in the form of an off-the-clock tour guide (Eric Balfour) who drops in to eat dinner with the couple. This sequence is equally uninvited, culling predictable tension out of the presence of another man at the campsite wherein Brad expected some needed alone time with his girlfriend. Positioning Brad as some valiant defender of Jenn's honor when Jenn is defined as a strong female character who can handle herself well is a questionable decision on MacDonald's part, and Balfour sports an unconvincing Irish accent in the part of the tour guide and performs the role as every bit the creep Brad thinks he might be.

And there's the bear. This is when the film reaches the height of its effectiveness. In fact, truth be told, the last half-hour is downright terrifying, staging a bear-mauling that is frighteningly realistic. What follows is desperation of the highest order, and one can read it in Peregrym's face (The actress's performance here is far more authentic than how she portrays the character in mere relationship troubles; Roop, on the other hand, never quite sells that aspect of the character). "Backcountry" is better when placing its characters against the harshness of nature than when pitting them against the nature of their relationship. But that bear, man.

Film Information

Missy Peregrym (Jenn), Jeff Roop (Brad), Eric Balfour (Alex), Nicholas Campbell (Ranger).

Directed and written by Adam MacDonald.

No MPAA rating.

92 minutes.

Released in select cities on March 20, 2015.