Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had the pleasure of seeing IFC Midnight’s new wilderness horror film BACKCOUNTRY and when I found out I could ask writer/director Adam MacDonald a few questions about it, I jumped at the chance. My review of the film is after the interview, but here’s what Mr. MacDonald had to say about wrestling with bears, actors, and all sorts of beasties in the wilderness while making BACKCOUNTRY!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): For those not familiar with the film, how would you describe BACKCOUNTRY to them?
ADAM MACDONALD (AM): Open Water in the woods. WILD with a bear attack.
BUG: At the beginning of BACKCOUNTRY, the film says it's inspired by true events. Many films say this and it's not always true (especially in horror films), can you elaborate on what inspired you to make BACKCOUNTRY?
AM: When the idea came to me to make “Open Water in the Woods” I started to write the script. I did a lot of research while I was writing and came across a couple of true accounts of people encountering predatory black bears. Reading these accounts grounded me and gave me the emotion for the story. There was one young couple that was fatally attacked deep in the Canadian backcountry a number of years ago, it’s a fictionalized account but the attack is very real. This story has happened and it will happen again and that scares me.
BUG: How did you go about casting Jeff Roop and Missy Peregym in the roles?
AM: Jeff is my cousin and I wanted to work with him. I loved working with him. I worked on the show (Rookie Blue) with Missy and I know her as a friend. I knew she would be incredible in the film. I was really nervous asking her because I wanted her for Jenn so badly. Thank God she said yes. Actually she gave the script to her mother and it was her mother that convinced her to do it. I hug her mom every chance I get. I knew these two would balance.
BUG: The film looks to be pretty demanding on the cast. Any horror stories behind making this film in the middle of the wilderness?
AM: When we were shooting on top of the water it was definitely pretty precarious. That could have been one slip- disaster. Thank God no one got hurt.
BUG: The bear attack in this film is the most realistic and most terrifying animal attack I've seen since JAWS. Was JAWS an inspiration for that scene and can you go into what you had to do in order to make this seem so real?
AM: Thank you for saying that! I really wanted to make the shower scene of bear attacks. Most of the films I’ve seen with bear attacks you always “watch” the attack. I want the audience to FEEL that you are in it. Watching the making of Rob Zombie films gave me great ideas to let your mind fill in what you don’t see. Over the years I broke down every single shot of the attack.
BUG: I'm assuming that was a fake bear head and the actors weren't that close to the attacking bear. Who did the effects and what were you looking for in making the monster beast for this film?
AM: I don't want to give away too much but I will say that David Scott and his special effects team did an amazing job! They created the deer from scratch and worked wonders for Alex’s wounds. We were determined to keep things as realistic as possible. But I’ll tell you we all got pretty damn close to the real bear.
BUG: You did a great job of fleshing out the characters into flawed, but likable people. What's your secret in accomplishing this?
AM: I am a big fan of Derek Cianfrance’s films. When I was telling Missy about the project I told her to think of it more like “Blue Valentine” in the woods. I was determined to make this couple feel real and by real I mean that they don’t start off as the “perfect smiling bubble gum” only to crumble later. I wanted the audience to just appear in their relationship and get a glimpse and that yes its flawed and they have vulnerability. I’m sure on the page Gosling’s character in Blue Valentine wasn’t “likeable” but you cared about him because he has desires and is doing the best even though he makes poor decisions. This was my vision for Alex.
BUG: I have to ask, what was the decision behind having Eric Balfour adopt an Irish accent for the film? It seemed a little weird to me, especially since I've never seen the actor try this accent in any other projects I've seen him in.
AM: Eric came to us wanting to do an accent. I’ve been an actor for a long time myself and I know what it feels like when someone sniffles your creativity. I did not want to do that with him. It was either southern or Irish. We went with Irish. I like it because it adds another element of uneasiness to the scene and that there are folks that come from all over the world to work in National and Provincial Parks in North America.
BUG: If you were trapped out in the wilderness, how do you think you would fare against the elements?
AM: Oh God pray for me!
BUG: What one essential item would you have to have on a hiking trip like this?
AM: Someone I can outrun in case we get chased by a bear. (& BEAR SPRAY FOR SURE)
BUG: Do you consider BACKCOUNTRY a horror film?
AM: I think of it as a survival thriller with horrific elements. But yes you can say Horror. This couple goes through the nightmare scenario and any horror is a real life nightmare.
BUG: Last chance, why should AICN HORROR readers seek out BACKCOUNTRY and how can they see it?
AM: If you want to see just how ferocious nature can really be, you got to see this movie. Missy Peregrym’s performance is incredible. You can find it on iTunes, Xbox Live, Amazon Prime, Google Play but if you want to get the full experience see it in select theatres!
BUG: Thanks, Adam.
AM: Thank you!
BUG: Below, after the trailer, is my review of BACKCOUNTRY which is in select theaters, On Demand, and iTunes from IFC Midnight!
Available On Demand and in select theaters from IFC Midnight!
BACKCOUNTRY (2014)Directed by Adam MacDonald
Written by Adam MacDonald
Starring Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop, Eric Balfour, Nicholas Campbell
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Dedicated readers of AICN HORROR know that one of my most basest of fears is of sharks. I don’t go into the ocean because of this fear and while I love watching killer shark movies, the films often chill me to the bone and effect me in ways that most everything else in the world of horror don’t….that is, except for bears. Bears are not cute cuddly things that eat honey and put out forest fires. Bears are land sharks and the same great fear I have of sharks goes double for bears as can avoid the ocean, but I spend 100% of my time on land. The good news is that I love being scared and films about bear attacks definitely send my old spine a tinglin’. BACKCOUNTRY is such a film which possesses one of the most realistic and terrifying bear attack sequences I have ever seen. While the scene is brief, the build to this scene is amazingly tension filled as we fist notice the tracks, then a gored animal, and finally the bear itself in ways that only heighten the tension to a pitch that is nerve-shattering. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
BACKCOUNTRY is a story of a couple heading out on a trip into the wild. Alex (Jeff Roop) is a self proclaimed woodsman, but like most city boys, it appears that his woodland training (which consists of going into the Canadian wilderness with his parents as a kid) is rudimentary at best. In the opening moments, it’s established that he’s a bit of a jerk, somewhat self centered, and not the best boyfriend as his girlfriend Jenn (Missy Peregrym ) takes a boyfriend test in a magazine and he fails it gloriously. Still, Alex is not portrayed as a total jerk. Through tender moments, we see Alex being a decent and affectionate guy, genuinely wanting to share an experience from his youth which he holds near and dear with his girlfriend. When Alex and Jenn cross paths with Brad (a Scottish brogue blurting Eric Balfour) who challenges Alex’s masculinity and makes him feel inadequate in front of Jenn, the couple’s seemingly good relationship starts to show its weaknesses. But Brad’s advances aren’t the only predatorial urges at play in this film. There’s the aforementioned bear stalking the periphery and circling close that pushes the couple to the limits of their relationship.
What works best with this film is the fact that writer/director Adam MacDonald fills this film with all sorts of strains on Alex and Jenn’s relationship. While the ties between the two are not perfect, both are very likable and this is key in order for any of the threats to work. So if you have issues with either of these characters, putting them in peril is only going to make you root one of them will soon be coming out of the south end of a north bound bear. MacDonald does a great job of keeping the threats vague for a great while as well. While it is evident something predatorial is stalking them, we don’t see it and for a long time I was wondering if this was a man vs. nature story or a man vs. man in nature story. Turns out it’s a little of both as the couple do a lot to threaten their own relationship themselves even before anything monstrous arrives. This threat from multiple fronts is part of the appeal of the film and since I found myself enmeshed with this couple and wanting them to work past their differences in order to survive, when the claws do come out (both literal and metaphorical) it makes the danger all the more palpable.
The bear attack in this film is legendary. It’s the kind of scene people will reference because it is so well paced and edited. While it’s highly choppy, MacDonald almost treats this scene like the shower scene in PSYCHO; focusing on one tiny detail after another and placing all of the puzzle pieces together on screen for the viewer to piece together. Seeing it all play out was absolutely horrific as not only do we piece together the carnage, but we hear it in gory, vivid detail as teeth and claws rip through flesh and gnaw at bone until it splinters. BACKCOUNTRY has been called OPEN WATER WITH BEARS. The description fits, but comparing it to OPEN WATER makes it feel like an uninspired copy. BACKCOUNTRY is not. It tosses you right into the bear pit with nothing but your own hands to protect you from what you’re witnessing. Those who love films highlighting the horrors of mother nature and man’s tendency to think he can somehow overcome it are in for a true treat with BACKCOUNTRY and those who plan a camping trip might want to either watch this film as a precautionary tale or steer clear of it lest you have many a sleepless night in your tent in the middle of the woods.
The fact that this film made me shake from head to toe makes me give this film a high recommendation. It’s more than just one bear attack that makes the film as the performances, the atmosphere, and the thematic heft are all great. But damn that is one doozy of a bear attack nevertheless.
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 13 years & AICN HORROR for 4. Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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