Adam MacDonald’s feature film debut brings raw, slow-burning terror into the woods in Backcountry, a nature-run-amok film that delivers pure, masterful viciousness to a story about a couple that find themselves on the wrong side of bear territory after getting lost on a camping trip. With its unique atmosphere soaked in paranoia, Backcountry is a special breed of horror that climbs to an inevitable, nerve-shredding conclusion.
Using the beautiful and open wilderness as his canvas, MacDonald takes a very calculated approach to his survival thriller by forcing a charming couple to get lost in the middle of nowhere, leaving them scared and alone. But what this film does so well is that it actually spends time with its characters, allowing the audience to really get to know them by dedicating most of its runtime to their slow descent into the unknown. In doing so, it creates a very subtle tension that gradually claws its way into the narrative, teasing you every step of the way.
MacDonald never once tries to hide the fact that his couple is going to eventually encounter a bear, either. And that’s because we already know exactly what his movie is about, there’s no real mystery to it and certainly no point in trying to disguise it as something it’s not. So what does he do? He constantly reminds the audience that there’s a threat out there—a paw print here, a half devoured deer there—pulling you in scene after scene, inching us closer and closer to the inevitable. It’s a very determined way to tell a story and it’s also a risky one, too, because the payoff has to be big and it has to hit hard.
Backcountry’s unpredictable, slow-cooking approach creates some of the most authentic and genuine horror you’re likely to see in a film this year. It’s so well-timed and perfectly paced that by the time MacDonald’s world comes crashing down, it will steal your breathe away. The final stretch of the film, when we finally come face to face with the bear, is brutal as all get out. What was once a film so measured in slow-burn tactics, becomes an unrelenting exercise in cutthroat insanity. Good luck catching your breathe in this one. It’s an intense, horrifying final moments that was built around the less is more approach and Backcountry absolutely nailed it.
MacDonald shows patience behind the camera, telling a familiar story in an unexpected way, making his feature film debut all the more impressive. Backcountry isn’t for the faint of heart; it creeps and crawls its way to a ferocious finale, one that will make you glad to be inside. It’s a monster movie in which nature is the monster and it’s a terrifying reminder of just how fragile you and I are.
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