One thing you absolutely have to be when going out in the woods is prepared.
That means compasses, maps, proper layering of clothes, medical kits, fire-starting materials, proper attire and, above all, a healthy respect for nature, meaning that when you sojourn out there to be among wildlife where various species live in a Darwinian struggle to thrive in their natural surroundings, you have to realize nature is gonna do what comes natural.
So chipmunks are gonna chip, squirrels are gonna be squirrelly, woodchucks are gonna chuck wood and grizzlies are going to grizzle.
[Bear with me here – as a cub apprentice drive-in reviewer-in training, the standing agreement with Joe Bob obligates me to fulfill a quarterly quota of intolerable puns. If I don’t meet that, I have to go to Grapevine and lube the axles of the trailer. Since I was quiet for a couple of months, I have to make up for lost time.]
This kind of stuff is taught on public television. Or if your parents didn’t make you watch that for three hours a day from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday from ages 2 to 4, there’s plenty of videos of angry deer pummeling hunters on YouTube. These things are on-demand for anyone with a smart device and a data plan, so there’s no excuse to not actively be prepared before you decide to go out with your significant other on a canoe/hiking/backpacking/camping trip.
However, that’s exactly what two suburban young adults don’t do in the based-on-a-true-story movie Backcountry, from 2014, which is the latest woods flick we’re checking out.
Instead of familiarizing themselves with what potential things could kill them and the topography of the place they’re going to, blissful Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) listen to modern rock as they embark on a weekend camping trip that was Alex’s idea because he’d been there a lot a long time ago.
So 3 minutes and 26 seconds into the movie, even before the title card, this guy Alex Lewis is already on thin ice with the audience because he sings this goofy campfire song to Jenn while driving.
But then he does the following:
- Is kind of arrogant toward the shopkeeper and declines a map.
- Ignores the shopkeeper’s advisory that the particular trail he wants to go on is closed to the public.
- Chucks Jenn’s phone in the car trunk and leaves it in there because he doesn’t want her to be distracted, even though, they might need it to call for help.
- Drops a canoe on his foot.
- Underestimates where they are, telling Jenn, “You know we’ll be lucky to see anything bigger than a chipmunk, right?”
- Ignores the bear print he sees and insists on pressing on.
And just to shoehorn a slasher trope in there, he drops trou and convinces Jenn that they should both get naked and jump in a lake.
Then there’s a kind of sketchy Irish bloke named Brad (Eric Balfour, from the TCM remake Darcy likes and Dinoshark) who might have been eyeballing em when they were nekkid, and he shows up with some fish and there’s a bit of alpha male posturing between Alex and Brad, making you kind of think that Brad’s going to be bad news.
That’s not the case, cause the owner of the pawprint that Alex decided not to tell Jenn about shows up at their tent. Prepared? They are not.
Best Way to Start the Trip: Alex and Jenn go skinny dipping in the lake.
Best Candidate for a Visit From the Health Department: Brad, who generously shares and preps the trout he caught, then goes and takes a whiz, then starts handling the potatoes they’re going to have for dinner.
Best Way to Lose a Toe to Infection: After dropping the canoe on his foot, Alex just rips the affected toenail off while they’re all sitting around the campfire.
Best Wild Foraging and Knowledge Retention: Alex finds some wintergreen and later when she’s on her own, Jenn remembers she can eat it.
Best Performance by Dead Meat: While hiking, they find a gnarly deer carcass covered by flies, another red flag Alex chooses to ignore.
Best Durability: Jenn, who bonks her head on a rock, climbs up a tree, falls down a waterfall, gets a compound ankle fracture, nearly drowns and endures a period of exposure all while being chased by a bear and isn’t afraid to level with Alex — “I don’t want to be freaking out right now but we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere.”
Best Cameo: The black bear really only show up in one part, but he really chews up the scenery and other stuff. This is writer/director Adam MacDonald’s debut flick — we checked out his three-star witchy woods-adjacent flick Pyewacket last year.
Although light on the bear attacks (if you want quantity in your bear attacks, check out the Last Drive-In episode of Grizzly or the more-recent Cocaine Bear), MacDonald’s fairly stripped-down narrative and the overall grittiness of the flick achieves the karmic balance it endeavored to set up at the start. The woods can be a cruel place that humans aren’t going to survive, unless, you know, you’re Arnold the Barbarian in Predator or Liam Neeson in The Grey.
Three and a half stars — even though they show off Alex’s hiney, there’s just not enough of all three B’s for Mr. MacDonald to get that last half-star.
Check out Backcountry on AMC+, TubiTV, the Roku Channel and Kanopy or get the physical media.