‘Backcountry’ Gives Nature the Respect it Deserves
Loosely based on a true story (or two), Adam MacDonald’s feature-length debut Backcountry follows a couple (Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop) as they venture out to a remote campground. Along the way, they encounter a black bear who starts tracking them. The movie, which is currently available on iTunes, VOD and Xbox Live, starts slow but finishes strong as it becomes a grizzly (pun intended) horror flick with tons of tension. MacDonald recently phoned us to talk about the movie.
Talk a bit about your career. You started as an actor but then moved into directing.
I was an actor and will always be in a way. I really turned the corner a little over ten years ago when I started doing short films. I was a working actor and did a bunch of series. I realized that I love genre films and horror movies and I wanted to be in that world more and I wanted to try to make them.
Was it an easy transition?
To be honest, with my first short I was scared to death. Not in a bad nervous way. Not in a giving a speech at a wedding nervous kind of way. I felt so comfortable and it shocked me. I did another short and another short and then felt ready for the feature. I felt so at home. Working with the actors was the best part.
How’d you get the idea for Backcountry?
I wrote this full-length script that never really hit and never really went anywhere. I wanted a simple idea that I could shoot for a low budget. Up here in Canada, because of funding, the lower the budget, the better the chance you have of getting it made. I was in a tent with my wife. I woke up at the earliest crack of dawn and I heard something walking around the tent. I don’t know if it was a dog or a bear or a raccoon, but it really scared me at first. This thought came to me of Open Water in the woods. That morning, I told my wife I wanted to make the film. Five years later, it’s bizarre to see it finally come to life.
Is it really a true story?
It is based on a couple of true stories. When I started writing the script, Open Water was my inspiration. I started doing research and came across true stories of bear attacks. There was a young couple that got attacked in the backcountry of Northern Ontario. There was this couple in Algonquin Provincial Park as well. That gave me the weight and anchor and emotion of the story, thinking of those people. It’s a fictionalized account for sure.
Was Grizzly Man an inspiration?
Just a little bit. That scene where he listens to the attack is so compelling. You hate him but it’s good cinema. I thought of that in a certain part of a scene in terms of imagining what it’s like.
Talk about the cast and what the two main actors bring to their respective roles.
They’re so different. They’re the power opposites. Jeff is my cousin and has been in my short films. He’s an accomplished actor in his own right. He wants to get his body into the character. It’s not method, but he really took it very seriously and gave it his all. Missy and I get along so well. We laugh a lot but when the time comes to roll, she jumps in and is right there. She shoots from the hip and I wanted to harness that. It helped that they trusted. If they didn’t trust me, it would have been a disaster.
The pacing is much slower than that of a typical horror film. Talk about that.
Some of my favorite films are slow burn films. I’m a bit tired of the scare every five seconds and the films that give away the ending at the beginning. It’s fine but one of my favorite horror directors is Rob Zombie. He does that but in his own way. And Ti West really changed things with House of the Devil. When I saw that, I knew I wanted more of those films. When I was writing it five years ago, I saw [Backcountry] as a slow burn film. That’s what it’s like when you’re hiking. Things can go from slow to fast in a hurry. I wanted to capture that.
The cinematography is terrific.
My cinematographer, I only wanted to work with him. I called him the eye of my soul. He elevated the film for sure. I don’t know lighting that well. I don’t know the nuances of lenses. I just know what I want to see. He delivered and used natural light. We were determined to get a bit of flares. Movies like Blue Valentine and Place Beyond the Pines are huge inspirations.
What do you hope people hope to get out of the movie?
I didn’t want to scare people away from camping. For one thing, Algonquin Provincial Park didn’t want us to shoot in their park at all. There had been attacks there. That frustrated me because we could make a zombie movie or a polar bear movie or a grizzly bear movie, but a black bear movie? No way. The scariest thing in the woods isn’t a witch. It’s the actual element and it’s real and ferocious. I’ve never seen it on film. I want people to walk out and know that nature deserves a lot of respect.
There is a certain amount of risk but I think campers realize that.
I appreciate that. Some people out there though, I try not to use their comments. Sometimes they’re so negative. I did come across one that said it was so dumb. I was like, “Back up. You’re a great example.” I grew up in northern Quebec and I would go hiking and it’s easy to take a wrong turn. You try to backtrack. Most people in Canada don’t bring bear spray. Some don’t even bring an axe. You can’t get cell reception. It’s serious business out there.
I really want to do a trilogy of women surviving extreme circumstances. I did write this script with a friend of mine called “Wolf at the Door” using more of a Dead Calm approach. We came up with a really good story. It’s being shopped around. It’s a low budget movie. I have some doors opening in Los Angeles. There’s another one where I did a rewrite of a script. That’s being shopped around for distribution. I’ve been working on it pretty deep. That will be a strong follow-up. I’m so ready to get back on the horse again because we shot the movie a year-and-a-half ago.