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Tense wilderness thriller finds young couple Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) going deep into the woods for a romantic camping trip. Alex arrogantly takes a trail a ranger (Nicholas Campbell) warns him is closed and does so without a map, confident he knows the way to a lake he’d visited years ago. His attempts to impress Jenn gets the two of them lost in the wilderness, but that is the least of their worries…as a massive black bear has staked out that area as it’s hunting ground and Jenn and Alex are now it’s prey.
Canadian thriller is written and tensely directed by Adam MacDonald (Pyewacket) and is an impressive debut. MacDonald gets the foreboding atmosphere started early using the red herring of a strange man (Eric Balfour) the couple meet in the woods who leaves both them and the audience, with an uncomfortable feeling. It also causes a bit of tension between the couple, so we are already on edge when he starts to hint to his audience that something far more dangerous is stalking the two. The tension builds as the two quarrel over being totally lost and MacDonald let’s us stew in it till almost an hour in when our predator makes it’s deadly and surprisingly gruesome appearance. Then it’s a suspenseful last act as our lone survivor tries to escape with the massive creature hot on their trail. For a first time director, MacDonald manages it all quite well, building the tension slowly then giving us a pulse pounding fight for life finale. It’s not perfect. Alex does some stupid and cliché things to move the plot forward, like arrogantly not bringing a map and secretly removing Jenn’s cellphone from her bag and leaving it behind, but in the context of the story and character, they are not unbelievable actions. As MacDonald takes time to let us get to know the couple, we can believe that certain actions or reactions are fitting, even if we have seen them before in other movies. The only other slight disappointment is that the last act seems to be over a little too quickly when compared to the slow build-up that leads us to it. We are just getting really involved, when suddenly it’s over. A little more of the chase and hunt would have made this a bit more satisfying, though, it still certainly entertains.
As for his small cast, the first-time director gets good work. Jeff Roop’s Alex is a likable guy, but his need to constantly impress his girlfriend gets a bit annoying and is supposed to. He’s a little bothered that she is a lawyer and his is a landscaper and his insecurity fuels his behavior at having to be the ‘macho’ one. Roop conveys this masculine insecurity well, especially when in the presence of Brad, whom he sees as a threat. Missy Peregrym shines as Jenn. She is a sweet but smart girl…though, maybe a little too trusting as in the case of Brad (Balfour). She isn’t very wilderness savvy, but when faced with the looming danger, she becomes quite the survivor. We like her and we are drawn in when she becomes hunted prey in an unfamiliar environment. Eric Balfour is unsettling and a bit creepy as Brad. The character is designed to ignite tension in the audience and between the couple, and the actor gives life to a role that is basically a plot device…and one that works. The only other cast member is Nicholas Campbell who has a brief role as the park ranger who sets the couple on their way and warns Alex, unheeded, to stay off the Blackwood trail.
Overall, this is a good flick with some nice tension and some surprisingly gruesome moments. It is well written and well directed by Adam MacDonald, who makes an impressive debut feature. It’s not perfect, in that there are some dumb decisions made by characters to set the plot in motion, though that is countered by the fact that they don’t seem far-fetched coming from the characters in question. The climactic chase/pursuit between bear and survivor also felt a little short when compared to the slow burn build-up, but does provide some good chills and suspense. Definitely a recommended flick for those who like wilderness-set thrillers and nature run amok movies.
3 hungry bears (I know the one in the movie is a black bear. Just being lazy).
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