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)

Murder by Phone

Its tagline could be “Scanners for dummies,” as Murder by Phone, aka, Bells features people causing harm to others remotely. If only we were remotely interested! To be fair, Murder by Phone is hilariously fun low-end crapola. And it features a cast that’s absolutely, positively better than it has any right to be: the portentous-of-voice John Houseman (Oscar winner for The Paper Chase) and star of stage and screen, Richard Chamberlain.

The beauty of Canadiana and Canuxploitation, was that filmmakers had to make do with very little, long before everyone had to (the state of affairs today, assuming you’re not making a superhero blockbuster or a franchise installment). And Logan’s Run and Orca director Michael Anderson acquits himself pretty well here, using Toronto locales like Bay St (Canada’s Wall St) and Museum Subway Station, a seldom-used TTC stop that serves the Royal Ontario Museum.

The plot is procedural, and pretty straightforward: someone is killing people using a phone. If you weren’t tipped off to that set-up by the movie’s title…well, there’s no helpin’ ya.

The first victim answers a ringing public pay phone…dumb move, and not just because receivers are havens for all manner of gross bacteria. The phone gives off a charge, obliterating the vic* and hanging up on her as far as sentience is concerned.

The coroner says the cause of death is heart attack, something the deceased’s professor can’t fathom as his student was a mere 25 years old. The professor/enviro-activist is Nat Bridger (Richard Chamberlain) and he starts poking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and this leads him to of all places, a giant telecom company.

And more residents fall victim…answering the call, as it were.

Murder by Phone offers up some fantastic Cronenbergian deaths, including an office flunkie shot out of his office window in his chair.

It’s inane Z-grade stuff, just the way we like it. And because this is Canadian it’s pronounced “zed.”

**1/2 (out of 5)

[Check out our Murder by Phone / Bells Podcast discussion!]

[*Editor’s note: Death-by-phone made its way into our book, Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons]