As nature-bound modes of death go there are few grimmer ways to go than being eaten by a bear. As Werner Herzog says after listening to audio of Timothy Treadwell being mauled by a grizzly in the a-bear-made-me-his-lunch documentary “Grizzly Man,” “it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” Sure, being licked to death by puppies would be horrifying, as would a deadly nip from a shark, but for sheer primal terror a deadly bear bite rates in the top two.
In “Backcountry” Alex (Jeff Roop) convinces his girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym) to join him on a woodsy adventure in a provincial park on the remote Blackfoot Trail. He knows his way around the forest and while she is more comfortable practising law in the city she agrees to go along for the ride. The romantic camping trip is disrupted almost before it has a chance to begin by Brad (Eric Balfour), a mysterious and possibly dangerous stranger. Eager to put some space between them and Brad, Alex pushes on, getting deeper into the trail. Soon they get lost and with supplies running low the pressure of wandering aimlessly gets to them. Worse, the trip soon becomes an exercise in survival when an uninvited bear crashes their tent looking for more than porridge.
Call it “Goldilocks and the Hungry Bear” if you like, but “Backcountry” plays on a basic fear, the idea of being consumed and it does it well. Director Adam MacDonald has an obvious love for genre movies, and has clearly studied movies like “Grizzly Rage” and learned his lessons well. He gives us a long build-up, creating tension—Is that Brad in the woods or an animal?—before introducing the fangs and claws. When he does, it’s worth the wait. His grizzly is a vicious, snarling beast, a Forest OG and a force to be dealt with.
Questions linger about why Alex, presented as an experienced camper would set out on a trip like this without the proper supplies and tool—My kingdom for a GPS!—and while “Backcountry’s” nicely constructed tale doesn’t answer them, it renders them moot when the bear brings a dose of life and death to the tale.