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)

47 Meters Down

It’s hard to bond underwater. So when it comes to establishing characters, heavy breathing 47 Meters Down  ain’t gonna cut it.

The film dives right in, as it were, with a mishap: two divers, sisters Kate and Lisa (Claire Holt and Mandy Moore) are stuck at the bottom of the sea (where Ringo star would rather be) when a winch malfunctions and their shark cage plummets to the very well-lit depths.

More properly called 40 Meters Down (the danger limit of experienced divers with respect to nitrogen narcosis) the film is caught between dual impulses: survivalist horror and animal attack. To the extent that it succeeds at neither, is surprising.

Their oxygen-tanks work the same way a ticking time bomb does in a spy movie, a plot device that should keep things headed in the right direction as far as interest is concerned. But again, with so little invested in Kate or Lisa it’s hard to take any more than a detached interest in the proceedings.They yak a bit on the boat, and are condescended to by the Mexican crew. Even when the sharks inevitably appear, it doesn’t spark any drama.

What’s most galling about 47 Meters Down, is that sharks aren’t even needed. Two people trapped in darkness is enough, or should be enough, to propel a narrative in the right hands.

When it comes to underwater suspense, Dario Argento gives us a master class engaging all of the senses in his 1980 opus, Inferno. There, the silence followed by the deadened “drip drip” of the soundtrack and angelic surrealism primes the pump for a bona fide floating corpse scare when Rose explores the watery depths of a New York City basement. In the hands of director Johannes Roberts, there’s no sense of depth in either sense of the word.

One of the most terrifying aspects of the deep blue sea, is the unrelenting almost existential darkness, something it shares with space. In the superior Open Water, the threshold of what’s on terra firm and the evil down below is played up. When the lost and exhausted divers in Open Water come up for air, there’s gasping terror of near drowning, and when they sink under the waves, there’s the threat of being attacked from the underside by sharks.

Spielberg had a good handle on this too in Jaws, giving us time to come up for air as the narrative unspools.

47 Meters Down by contrast, is waterlogged crapola, redeemed sorta by an OK ending.

** (out of 5)

[check out our podcast of 47 Meters Down!]