Backcountry

The reasons for fearing the outdoors in horror are four-fold: getting lost, hunted down by a slasher in the woods, accosted by a family of backwoods types, but rarely, getting attacked by an animal.

Backcountry hints at two of these, and delivers a third. And each is done well enough that the flick could’ve taken an unmarked path less traveled down any of ’em.

Couple Alex and Jenn leave the city (in this case, west Toronto) for a late-summer sojourn in the bush. She’s a newbie, he claims to know his way around the remote provincial park from experience going there as a kid (the meandering roadway to the park will warm the heart of any Ontarian, as will the ranger cabins where you check in before going to your campsite).

She’s packing heavy (flares/bear spray), he’s not. And adamantly so. He keeps her phone back at the car after reluctantly posing for a bush-selfie. Sure, it’s a dick move that stuck in the craw of a number of the pedants on IMDb, but it’s also a believable one. Keep the tech at home, kids, it’s the goddamn wilderness.

Their paths cross with a seedy Irishman with bad table manners (even for the backcountry) and that’s where things take a decidedly different turn.

Director Adam MacDonald (Rookie Blue) eases us into the woods pretty effortlessly and paints a solid picture of isolation/loneliness.

There’s constant chatter among us horror folk about what constitutes too much/little character development. With Alex and Jenn, MacDonald has it “just right,” a la Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

And speaking of bears…well, let’s just say that the film’s apex is an apex predator. There’s a scene that’s bold, brash and bloody.

And boy do we love our animal attack movies…and this fits right in (check out our podcast where we discuss the similarities between Grizzly and The Car)

Backcountry rewards patience, as does appreciation of nature at the end of the day.

Give this one a shot.

***1/2 (out of 5)

Scream 4

Sidney Prescott is making a name for herself as the author of a series of books. Her publicist, walking through a lonely parking garage, gets a call. A call from Ghostface. When she asks if she can take a message for her famous client, Scream’s masked assailant warns, “you are the message.”

Is this some too-clever-by-half Scream 4 allusion to Marshall McLuhan (“the medium is the message)? Who needs the author of The Gutenberg Galaxy in an era where “nobody reads anymore,” as one character here puts it.

That may be so, but they sure do talk.

Kevin Williamson, the man responsible for the first two Scream flicks, returns as if he’s paid by the word. Jesus, nobody ever shuts up in this, the fourth and extraordinarily painful installment of the self-referentially-winking series.

Less is more, and this more is considerably less. If an endless word babble reference of every classic horror movie floats your boat, feel free  but it’ll capsize the rest of us.

Scream 4 is an appalling cash-in even by the seemingly bottomless well of horror sequel cash-ins.

But it’s notable for one thing.

Everything is meta. Its meta is meta, there’s even a reference to the act of being “meta” (sadly, no reference to ex-baller/LA Laker, Metta World Peace). Its meta drives an orbitoclast smack into your orbital lobe.

Scream (the original), was undoubtedly solid, sharp as Ghostface was stabby, and playful to boot. Unfortunately, its legacy is tarnished because for a while in the 90s, we suffered many films that tried to encroach on similar comedy-horror territory. So it’s odd that this installment, Scream the 4th, upped the “look at me, I’m so clever” ante, when it was meant to have been a return to form.

Featuring a bunch of ever-telegenic TV cast-offs (people from The OC/90201, etc, etc and even Anthony Anderson, pre-Blackish) the film’s saving grace is the steely determination of Neve Campbell. She’s quite excellent, even if she’s acting in a different movie entirely.

In 2013, Harvey Weinstein, while speaking at the Zurich International Film Fest, expressed interest in making a fifth and final installment of Scream. Luckily for all of us, he’s no longer in the movie biz.

*1/2 (out of 5)

[Listen to our chat about the original Scream on the Really Awful Movies Podcast]