Into the Woods

by Glenn Lovell

The alone-in-the-wilderness survival number gets a serious kick in the hindquarters in “Backcountry,” a nicely executed Canadian thriller written and directed by Adam MacDonald and starring Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop as a couple of weekend backpackers who go fatally wrong at the first fork in the trail.

Said to be loosely based on a true story, like “Open Water” and the Aussie “Black Water,” this creepily effective entry follows Alex (Roop) and Jenn (Peregrym) as they become increasingly lost on what’s supposed to be a fun, romantic trek through a wilderness park in British Columbia. The casually arrogant Alex, who fancies himself the last independent man, turns down a map at the ranger station and chucks the cell phone into thposter-largee back of the car. The third day out, Jenn suspects the worst: her Boy Scout boyfriend is a fraud who couldn’t find his way out of a mall parking lot, much less a sprawling national park.

Of course most of us would turn back at the first of several bad omens, which this time include a grinning hunter (Eric Balfour) straight out of “Deliverance,” a deer carcass swarming with flies, and a dead crow.

“Backcountry” (VOD) harvests gooseflesh the old-fashioned way, i.e. by suggesting much, showing little. MacDonald waits a good 45 minutes to reveal his key threat ‒ a lumbering black bear with a taste for human blood. Before this, the director relies on shaking bushes and snapping twigs to elicit shivers. He introduces the bear in a sort of shadow play: As the hikers sleep, the barest outline of a snout sniffs the tent.

MacDonald, a Canadian actor here making his feature directorial debut, obviously is a talent to watch. Like Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” and Lee Tamahori’s underrated “The Edge,” this backwoods shocker plays on primal fears ‒ of being abandoned in the woods, pursued by something big and unstoppable.

BACKCOUNTRY With Jeff Roop, Missy Peregrym, Eric Balfour. Written, directed by Adam MacDonald. 92 min. Unrated (would be R for profanity, gruesome makeup effects)

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