“… makes Cloverfield look like it was shot on a Steadicam rig.”
Last night I watched a movie on Netflix called ‘Backcountry’, and let’s just say that I was surprised to look up the film afterwards and find that the reviews are largely positive. Backcountry is a film about a couple who decide to go on a camping trip in rural Canada. The pair, as you can imagine, find themselves way out of their depth, and the movie tries to emulate something like Open Water. This love story becomes a sort of survival as this happy couple are thrust into a not-so-happy situation.
So why didn’t I like Backcountry? First of all, it was kind of a ‘nothing’ movie. By this I mean: Most of the film has literally no point, and this is rather infuriating to me. I understand that a nice way for writers to pat themselves on the back is with misdirecting the audience. Nothing makes a writer feel more in control than being able to toy with a person by making them jump at something as inconsequential as a squirrel, and Backcountry bases most of its runtime on this principle. But it’s not even the misdirections that I’m super mad at, it’s the movie not doing anything in between those misdirections. Sure, the couple meets a creepy dude and the whole time you are wondering what is going to happen; this is a tired trope, but I’ll give it a pass. What I won’t let pass is the 30 minutes after this encounter that consists of the couple just walking in the woods. That’s it. Just walking. Nothing happens, the creepy guy isn’t mentioned again, they just walk. How is that a movie? And even later on when the couple starts to hear noises outside of the tent, it’s brushed off in favour of more walking and accomplishing nothing. If you cut Backcountry down to only include the parts with relevance to the story (and I’ll include misdirections because I’m feeling generous) you would have a movie that would barely crack the 30 minute mark. And the worst part is, Backcountry strings you along because you expect shit to happen during these mind-numbing scenes. Of course when you’re watching the movie you’ll be interested in this couple walking in the woods because you expect something to happen, but when nothing does you instantly feel robbed and refuse to be tricked again. This means that the trick only works for the first walking montage.
On top of this fact, the movie isn’t even fun to look at; in fact, I would say it is quite the opposite. In the beginning Backcountry opts for this weird ‘found-footage-but-not-quite-found-footage’ style that initially confused be, but then I understood why it was presented as such: so the cameraman would have an excuse to never use a fucking tripod. I’m not kidding when I say that watching Backcountry gave me a headache. The amount of shake in the camera, and the way the camera moved was just too much to take and it honestly makes Cloverfield look like it was shot on a Steadicam rig. And to make this even worse there were gratuitous GoPro shots thrown in as well, as if we wouldn’t notice. Hell, in one scene you can even see one of the characters holding the GoPro (despite him making a big deal out of not bringing technology along), which means that they couldn’t even do two shots to hide the physical camera. I’m not going to blame the use of GoPros on the fact that this is a low-budget film because better men have made the same mistake (ahem Peter Jackson), but during some point in the post-production someone should have been able to say “hey, this looks like shit. Let’s just scrap these shots”.
The rest of this review will deal with spoilers, so if you want to be fooled by all of these misdirection attempts don’t read any further.
When we finally get to the real enemy of the film, the movie does pick up. I’ll forgive the fact that this bear attack came out of nowhere because the movie was trying its damnedest to make me look at everything but the possibilities of a bear. Anyway, the bear attack in Backcountry is one of the worst things I have ever seen. First of all, this attack accentuates the terrible direction that I mentioned earlier. Not only does this scene have shaky cam, but it’s to an extent where I literally couldn’t make heads or tails from anything on the screen. They might as well have just had a black screen and the sounds of a bear and humans screaming. To top off this terrible (for lack of a more harsh term) direction, the editing tried it’s best to shake me off as well. I’ve never had a movie act like it was trying to actively get rid of me before I watched this scene, but now I can honestly say that I understand the feeling. The direction and editing in this scene double up to create one of the worst pairs in cinematic history that not only confuse you, but they refuse to let you get your bearings (get it? BEAR-ings). To add to this, as soon as you do get to see what’s going on you wish that you hadn’t. The effects in this movie (at least the ones I’m going to mention now) are terrible. The bear is fake (well not fake, but digitally added into the scene), the blood on the bear is fake, and even the fucking bear spray is fake. What the fuck? You couldn’t use an actual orange mist? All of this culminates into what is easily the worst scene in the movie, and one of the worst sequences I have ever seen. But it isn’t all doom and gloom, because Backcountry manages to do one thing right: the gore effects. Even though you couldn’t see shit when the bear attacked, you did get to see the aftermath of that attack; and it was beautifully disgusting. Instead of adding on to the awful CGI we got wonderful practical effects that actually made my stomach turn. I mean, we literally get to see a dude with his lips hanging off of his face. How metal is that? It’s just a shame that the rest of this encounter had to bring the movie down so much, because if it hadn’t than I might have actually looked upon this film favourably. The last two things I want to briefly mention are just brief story points that didn’t sit right with me. First of all, why was that Irish guy being such a creep? He wasn’t the villain, so why did the movie try so fucking hard to make us afraid of him. I can see a character being ‘not quite right’, but this dude was an outright piece of shit. It just seems like a really out of place character when you look back on what the movie was really about. And secondly, why didn’t the chick in the movie use the whistle or the flare ever? I mean she starts screaming early on, but a whistle is louder and takes less effort to produce sound. I thought she had lost it until she pulled it out toward the end of the film. Are whistles a limited use item? Did she only have so many blows left before it disintegrated in her had? And why didn’t she use the flare when she heard the helicopter? She was already in a tree (as high as she could go), so I feel like lighting the flare would have given her pretty good odds of being seen. Instead she spends her time climbing down from the tree and then screaming at the helicopter. It’s just little things like that that piss me off about horror films, and Backcountry was no different.
Overall Backcountry is a movie that tries to be something it’s not. Instead of presenting the story to you in a timely manner, it misdirects you until you have no idea what (if anything) is going on, and then pulls the rug out from under you by introducing a completely new third party as a villain. The film tries to keep tensions high, but instead it falls flat by just consisting of characters walking through the woods for 90 minutes with absolutely nothing happening. The direction is terrible, the effects are bad (except for the gore effects), and the writing is weak. Backcountry should have stayed where it belongs: lost in the woods.
I give Backcountry a D