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— Dustin Hoffman, Mad City

MRQE Top Critic

November

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Nothing in director Adam MacDonald’s Backcountry qualifies as truly surprising. Then again, nothing in Backcountry has to be especially novel because it’s a movie in which skill trumps originality of vision.

Set deep in the Canadian woods, Backcountry begins when a couple goes camping.

You can bet it won't be a walk in the woods
You can bet it won’t be a walk in the woods

Let’s be real here: When a couple goes camping in a movie, you can bet that they won’t be spending their time enjoying the pleasures of forest solitude. Something awful’s bound to happen — and in Backcountry it does.

Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) are the couple in question. Passing himself off as a skilled woodsman, Alex wants to impress his girlfriend by sharing the beauty of a spot he claims is worth any discomfort they might experience.

Jenn doesn’t like being separated from her Blackberry, but she’s game enough to give camping a whirl.

The first signs of trouble arrive when Alex and Jenn meet a loner (Eric Balfour) who’s hiking through the woods, after what appears to have been a successful fishing trip.

It doesn’t take long for Balfour’s Brad and Alex get into a bit of mano-a-mano jostling over Jenn’s attentions.

Brad departs, but he has shaken things up for Alex and Jenn — and for us.

After an uneasy night, Alex and Jenn move deeper into the forest. Already warned not to leave well-marked trails, an overly confident Alex veers off the path as the couple heads toward Alex’s supposedly idyllic destination.

MacDonald does a good job of keeping us on edge. Understanding that we already know something terrible will happen, he astutely plays with our expectations, attuning us to the potential danger in the crack of every twig and the darkness in every shadow.

At 92 minutes, Backcountry isn’t overlong, but the movie takes its time bringing Alex and Jenn into contact with the danger that awaits. All I’ll say is that we’re talking about a large and extremely unfriendly animal.

MacDonald eventually doles out an appropriate amount of gore, which I mention here because Backcountry may challenge the sensibilities of those who are squeamish.

It’s not fair to say much more. MacDonald effectively pushes the right buttons, creating a good deal of anxiety as he takes us on this bare-bones, stomach-tightening walk in the woods, which (a title card tells us) was based on a true story.

Real or imaginary, Backcountry did enough to persuade me to avoid camping, which (to be perfectly honest), I’ve had little trouble avoiding for most of my life.