The Terror of Nature in Adam MacDonald’s ‘Backcountry’ May Keep Us All From Camping
In writer/director Adam MacDonald’s feature debut Backcountry, things seriously go wrong for happy city couple Jenn (Missy Peregrym) and Alex (Jeff Roop). Going on a camping trip to Northern Ontario, the two end up losing their way, walking straight into bear territory. Backcountry tackles the survival thriller, and surprisingly succeeds. With two great performances, a smart screenplay, and impressive cinematography, Backcountry avoids falling into clichés, delivering a taut, tense, and all around good genre film.
Before the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, we briefly chatted with Adam MacDonald about Backcountry. The film hits theaters Friday March 20th, you can read our review here.
The promotional materials mention that Backcountry is based on a true story. Could you tell us what story the film is based on?
After I came up with the idea of an Open Water in the woods, I started to do quite a bit of research on black bears as well as first hand accounts of campers and hikers who have been attack by these animals. I came across a story of a couple who were savagely attacked in the backcountry by a predatory black bear nearly ten years ago, I found the story both heroic and tragic, it made me very emotional. The couple being young and alone made it all the more compelling to me.
You shot the film on location in Northern Ontario. How was that experience, especially for your first feature film? Did you have any of your own problems with Mother Nature during the shoot?
She’s a bitch! NO! Just kidding. Well there were definitely two sides to her. The crew would always joke that I had a direct line to God while shooting because the weather would always match the script. For instance, we needed it to be dark and overcast for certain scenes at the start of the shooting day and that’s what we got BUT I needed sunshine for the last scene and you know what? That sun broke through the clouds right on time! This happened a lot, it was a little spooky to be honest. As for her other side, when it was cold it was cold! Some night shoots we were all pushed to the limit.
How did you work with cinematographer Christian Bielz to establish the film’s look and mood?
Christian was amazing, I love that guy. I called him the eye of my soul because he captured my imagination. When I first met him for an interview I asked him what came to mind when he read the script. He said The Place Beyond The Pines. That was exactly it! I love Derek Cianfrance, and the mood his films put you in. They’re organic and alive and nothing seems forced. We set up a lot of the scenes where the actors could turn 360 degrees and not see one crew member. As for the mood, to me it’s a balance of music, performance, camera work, editing, and even colour temperature. You’ve got to find that balance until you feel it and then you hope others do as well.
Survival thrillers, or more generally films dealing with man against nature, have been around for quite a while. Did you have any hesitations or concerns about tackling such a familiar genre, and if so how did you address those concerns?
My only concern was making it feel as real as possible and make that bear attack the most visceral of attacks ever seen. I want people to feel it. I love nature, I have huge respect for her. I spent a lot of my life in the Laurentians north of Montreal. Being attacked by a large predatory animal is no joke.
Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop are both excellent in this. They nail a kind of natural chemistry that’s hard to pull off. You have a background in acting, so now that you’re behind the camera, how much does that experience influence how you work with the cast?
I’m very fortunate to have had a lot of experience in front of the camera, so I know what it’s like be in the arena. I know how I like to be approached when I’m working with a director. But Jeff and Missy are professionals first and foremost. My gut knew that these two were the ones to play these roles. Missy is out of this world, her work is so intense and immediate. I love them both.
Could you talk about some of your filmmaking influences, not only on Backcountry but in general?
Rob Zombie and Derek Cianfrance are two big influences on me. I study their work and it definitely inspired me on Backcountry. I hope fans might see a bit of both in the film. I’m also a huge fan of South Korean horrors and thrillers. They go right to the bone on those! I absolutely love The Chaser!
One of the things I enjoyed about the writing was how hard it was to predict exactly what would happen. There are warnings from the park ranger, the unsettling encounter with the wilderness guide, bear tracks on the trail, the feeling of somebody watching them (just to name a few). Did you intend to do this as a way to keep viewers on their toes?
Yes! 100%! I wanted to keep it subtle and avoid the “jump scare” tactic that has been done to death lately.
Your film seems intent on scaring people out of camping. Are you personally a fan of camping?
Yes, I’m a fan of camping until a six hundred pound black bear comes looking for me. It’s nature and it can be so beautiful beyond belief only to turn into the most terrifying experience one can face. That’s life.
What are you planning to work on next?
I’m developing a new feature called The Wolf At The Door. It’s a story where a secret is revealed over a long weekend cabin getaway that ends up in murder.
This interview was originally published on September 9, 2014 as part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.