Getting hopelessly lost in the woods is a big fear for many people, and one that comes horrifically true in Adam McDonald’s Backcountry, a realistic, breathless, flawed yet ultimately effective survival thriller very loosely based on a true story. Young couple Jeff Roop and Missy Peregrym are off on a camping trip in the gorgeous Ontario wilderness, but things go dangerously wrong when they don’t bring a map, a phone or any means of navigation and find themselves stranded. I know what you’re thinking, how stupid is it to do that, however, the script provides specific reasons for every mistake they make and it’s up to the viewer to decide just how credible their turn of events is. In addition to being lost, they are suddenly faced with a very angry black bear who doesn’t take well to them wandering onto its land. The film isn’t really structured like your average thriller, instead building steadily and slowly with our two leads until it gets really crazy all of a sudden, and the visceral impact of the bear attacking hits very hard. The film is ruthlessly realistic in these scenes and if you thought Leo DiCaprio got it bad in The Revenant, just wait for this mauling. I really like Missy Peregrym, always been a fan of her work in stuff like Heroes, Rookie Blue and the overlooked Reaper. She’s usually cast in more lighthearted characters but she does a terrific job with the emotional heft, panic and despair needed to pull this role off and I wish she’d get cast in more dramatically demanding parts. There’s an odd, inexplicable subplot involving another hiker they come across played by Eric Balfour, who is vaguely threatening to them for reasons unknown but his character’s involvement and attitude towards them is never properly explained nor feels necessary to the story overall, which jams up the otherwise rock steady narrative a bit. Still, it’s a very effective film, the bear attacks are genuinely blood curdling and our two leads, Missy in particular, make their characters humans with depth that we care about. Good stuff.
In most cases, Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes label has made dismal attempts at horror remakes (see their Elm Street and Friday The 13th for cringe cases in point). However, the version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre they did was pretty damn good on my barometer, a brooding, darkly humorous and fiercely frightening piece that reworks the barebones, grainy vibe of Tobe Hooper’s original classic into something more dingy and atmospheric. It’s the 70’s, and rural Texas is as humid and inhospitable as ever, particularly so in Travis County, right in time for a Volkswagen bus full of nimrod partygoers to trundle through and get caught in the snare of the severely disturbed Hewitt clan, spearheaded by big ol’ Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), a mute, disfigured monster with a penchant for taking a chainsaw to people’s vitals and wearing their skin over his own, inspired by the less imposing real life killer Ed Gein. Sexy Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Balfour and Mike Vogel plays these ill fated kids, serving mainly as power tool sharpening blocks. I love the slow, eerie buildup of this one, as they begin to realize that the town isn’t just sleepy or hidden, it’s pretty much dead save for these last straggling residents who are clearly off their head. A huge asset for the film is R. Lee Ermey as the creepy, hostile county Sheriff, who let’s just say… isn’t really the Sheriff at all. He gets many chances to mean mug, terrorize and intimidate these kids and the old gunnery sergeant has a ball. The rest of the townsfolk are a creepy bunch of hayseed yokels without a brain or conscience between them, and serve as a luring posse to Leatherface. The killings are appropriately gory, and hats off to director Marcus Nispel for a striking opening shot that sees his camera pan through the still smoking head-wound of a poor girl who’s just blown her dome off with a giant revolver. Ew. The high praise I’m giving this one does not apply to the follow up prequel called The Beginning, which ditches all mood and pacing for an exercise in abrasive, unforgivable sadism and lazy plotting. Ermey goes full nutso in that one and still is having fun, but not even he can pull it out of the shit. I’d imagine same goes for the host of others that came after, including a new entry that’s slated for this year, if memory serves. This one got lucky because it played it’s cards right, and earned the position of a remake that does indeed hold a candle.