Tuesday, September 09, 2014

TIFF ’14: Backcountry

Hipsters like to think nature is romantic and awe-inspiring. Actually, it is dangerous and uncomfortable. Alex thinks he will prove the former idealized view to his reluctant girlfriend Jenn, but instead he will simply confirm latter in spades during the course of Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry, which screens during the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

Alex insists this trip is going to so awesome, because he will show Jenn his favorite trail to hike. You see it leads to this totally cool lake. Of course, he knows these woods so well he does not even need to pick up a map at the ranger station. Frankly, it is rather baffling why she didn’t just dump his butt in the car. She will soon wonder about that herself, but before she reaches that point, they run into Brad, a slightly intense trail guide, whom brings out Alex’s competitive instincts.

Eventually, Brad takes his Irish accent and moves on, but the couple remains uneasy. After all, it is obvious to Jenn the stranger knows the territory much better than her boyfriend. In fact, Alex soon has them hopelessly lost. With their water and provisions depleted, the not so happy campers soon see signs of bear activity.

Although billed as a thriller, Backcountry is more closely akin to Lee Tamahori’s under-appreciated The Edge. While nobody compares to Sir Anthony Hopkins, MacDonald’s cast is definitely more accomplished than that of Christopher Denham’s Preservation, another natural comparison title. However, Denham wastes little time cutting to the chase, whereas Backcountry is rather slow out of the blocks.

It is worth repeating, if you want to survive in the wild, stick with the city folk, because you can trust their survival instincts far more than those of the granola outdoorsy types. Jenn will be a case in point. Missy Peregrym is suitably down-to-earth as the down-to-business Jenn. Not afraid to get muddy, she comes to look like she is surviving quite an ordeal. In contrast, Jeff Roop’s whiny portrayal of Alex does not wear as well. However, it is nice to see Nicholas Campbell (of Da Vinci’s Inquest) appearing briefly as the park ranger and confirming Backcountry’s Canadian bonafides.

MacDonald nicely stages the film’s natural perils (definitely including an animal attack here and there), but the relationship issues are probably a bit too prominent in the dramatic mix. Never dull (but sometimes exhausting for the wrong reasons) Backcountry is an imperfect but competently executed survival story that will probably count on plenty of local support when it screens again tomorrow (9/10) at this year’s TIFF.