What can go wrong for two people stuck in the woods? Horror films in love with this conceit have suggested crazed killers, malevolent aliens, even mythical beasts.
Writer-director Adam MacDonald's modestly unnerving wilderness nail-biter "Backcountry," however, reminds with grim, grisly determination that human error and furry, fierce, coldblooded nature are all one needs to wipe the smile off any smug Bear Grylls wannabe's face, and audiences to boot.
Ostensibly based on a true story, "Backcountry" follows good-natured couple Alex (Jeff Roop), ready to impress as an outdoorsman, and nervous city girl Jenn (a superb Missy Peregrym). They throw caution to the wind — along with, against a ranger's suggestion, maps and cellphones — for an end-of-season camping excursion into the wilds of Restoule Provincial Park in Canada.
What ensues is a steady stripping away of assuredness — and a dread-filled externalization of internal fears — as the two meet a handsome, vaguely threatening stranger (Eric Balfour), get lost, argue and collect ominous signs that something else is out there.
Christian Bielz's artful cinematography is a plus, and MacDonald knows how to stoke a suspense fire. "Backcountry" inevitably brings on the bloody, but it finds atmospheric ways to depict how the bucolic hush of a nature getaway can morph into a survival nightmare for the unprepared.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood.