When Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop) decide to venture on a trek outside the city to discover the great Canadian outback, they quickly become aware of what truly awaits them. In the aftermath of several arguments, Alex’s bravado triumphs; moments later, they find themselves lost in the forest and their only way out is to tame the rugged terrain that lay before them.
A jarring film, based on a true story, “Backcountry” written and directed by Adam MacDonald, succeeds in keeping audiences largely aloof while its principle characters navigate their way around hollow trees and vapid cliffs with each forward step. Duplicity strikes a chord in the film as MacDonald is able to balance desperation and resentment with forgiveness and adoration.
Their patience teeters on the edge; their relationship gets pushed to its boundaries over and over again. They struggle to find their whereabouts while desperately trying to fend themselves against the creatures of the wild, both human and animal alike.
Undoubtedly, Canada flourishes as the star of the film. Shot in the vast countryside of North Bay, Ontario, luscious green and orange leaves decorate the screen against a backdrop of solid open blue sky. Aerial shots enhance the captivating scenery and prove to encapsulate the desolateness of the natural landscape.
The enormous precipice that Jenn and Alex laude over is one of the few moments when nature both baffles and astounds the viewer. Its beauty overshadowing, its depth entices fear.
In the opening scene, Peregrym and Roop offer up an alluring taste of chemistry but not one that is entirely satisfying. Initially, their attraction seems palpable yet it also seems somehow forced, appearing more like two friends going camping rather than a couple on the verge of life long happiness. Granted, that could be credit to MacDonald’s writing for creating such fluid dialogue and likeable characters that we fear for as much they fear for themselves. Conversely, Peregrym fantastically portrays Jenn, the doe-eyed city slicker, who anxiously agrees to this trip only later to have to acclimate to the wilderness in the hope of pure survival. Fear of the unknown wears her like a mask to which Peregrym effortlessly conveys through quirky quips and resentful sarcasm.
Thrilling as the prospect of getting lost in any wilderness seems, the thought will strike fear in the cleverest outdoors man. “Backcountry” is evidence to the horror in that reality as Jenn and Alex grapple with their cavernous surroundings whilst trying to survive in the midst of their own backyard. The film provokes the viewer to watch the genesis, the battle between human and nature, the realization that one always seems to be in more peril than the other.
Backcountry premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 8.