The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



I have come within five feet of a wild bear. For a number of years, I lived a few miles out in the country. One morning, I stepped out onto my slightly-elevated back porch. Because there was a set of patio furniture obscuring my view, I did not realize an adult bear was on all fours on the other side, tearing up a bird feeder. Upon hearing me, the creature stood up, roared, and ran off into the woods. (I high-tailed it back into the house, naturally.) That moment made it crystal clear to me why many people fear bears. They are massive, and when you see one up close, you realize that there is little you could do to defend yourself if it tried to attack you. The thriller Backcountry is all about that idea, and it's a film that quite literally inspires chills, whether you've had a similar experience or not.

Missy Peregrym plays Jenn, a corporate lawyer convinced by her boyfriend Alex (Jeff Roop) to go on a camping trip. He wants her to see the Blackfoot Trail, a secluded place he's visited many times over the years. Jenn is somewhat nervous about going to such a remote location, but Alex swears he knows the area like the back of his hand. On their first night alone in the wilderness, they encounter Brad (Eric Balfour), a creepy guy who comes off vaguely threatening to them. Alex and Jenn resolve to get away from him as quickly as possible the following morning. Alex, however, doesn't know the route as well as he claims. The couple becomes hopelessly lost, with food and water supplies depleted. Even worse is the terrifying discovery that they've stumbled into the territory of a very hungry bear. The fight for survival begins.

Backcountry is an outstanding example of what I call the “ordeal movie.” Films of this kind force viewers to mentally put themselves in the place of the protagonists as they struggle to survive a life-or-death ordeal of some variety. (Open Water and Buried are other examples.) Ordeal movies, done right, can be incredibly effective, as they elicit a sense of What if that was happening to me? discomfort. Backcountry is almost traumatically intense in this regard. The way director Adam MacDonald stages things – like the bear poking its nose through the tent while Jenn and Alex sleep – ensures the story gets maximum mileage out of its premise. While it wouldn't be right to reveal anything that happens, it's safe to say that the film continually cranks up the danger, creating a scenario that becomes more and more harrowing with every passing minute. If you've ever entertained the idea of going camping in the wilderness, you might just change your mind after this movie.

While the story has a nerve-rattling buildup of suspense, the actors are equally crucial to its success. Jeff Roop and (especially) Missy Peregrym deliver deeply authentic performances, selling every ounce of fear, hesitation, and abject shock the characters feel. Underneath the survival theme is a second idea, this one about relationships. Alex has a personal reason why he wants to go to Blackfoot Trail; it is why he ignores danger signals and pushes ahead even when he's geographically disoriented. His good intentions overtake logic, causing him to put the woman he loves in grave danger. The repercussions of Alex's decisions, coupled with the way the actors bring them to life, give Backcountry a haunting quality in its third act. You can't simply shake the movie off.

MacDonald and cinematographer Christian Bielz do some subtle, yet effective things with the photography. Early scenes are shot with a lot of light, so that the woods seem beautiful and serene. Later scenes are shot darker and colder, which makes them ominous and deadly. The editing is intentionally disorienting at times in order to simulate the experience of being lost and unable to find one's bearings. This is one of those movies where the filmmaking itself is used to replicate some of the things being experienced or felt by the people onscreen.

I was a bit of a nervous wreck when Backcountry was over. The tension is cranked so high that it makes you feel a little shaky inside by the time the end credits roll. Things happen in the film that are almost unimaginably awful. Yet imagine them we do, because MacDonald, his cast, and his crew have worked tirelessly to craft a superb chiller that honestly earns the moniker. Lots of movies deal with the idea of “man versus nature.” Backcountry takes the idea to a heart-pounding extreme. This is the story of two people who unwillingly have to stare death - in the form of a big black bear - in the face. It stares right back at them, and they can't afford to blink.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Backcountry comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on September 1 from Scream Factory. Bonus features on the Blu-Ray begin with audio commentary from director Adam MacDonald and stars Missi Peregrym and Jeff Roop. There is also an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary in which cast and crew discuss the nature of creating such a harrowing film. This is much more than the usual self-promotional feature. Everyone speaks very articulately and with great insight about the project.

The remainder of the supplements are short and sweet. A test video featuring MacDonald's cat – used to give the animal wrangler an idea of what the bear would need to be trained to do – is here, as is a still gallery and the original theatrical trailer.

Backcountry got a limited release earlier this year. It deserves to be discovered and shared on Blu-Ray. This is one of the most terrifying survival thrillers you will ever see.

For more information on this title, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Backcountry is unrated, but contains language, brief nudity, and sequences of extreme gore/terror. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.

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