Directed by Christopher Schrack
As per planning holidays, if you wish to save money on your horror movie then set it in the woods. Here you’ll find a suitably creepy location, ready-made atmospheric lighting and minimal disturbances. More importantly, if used correctly they can be a great source of genuine terror for city dwellers used to neon lights and big crowds. In his second feature film, director Christopher Schrack goes deep between the trees with a pair of holiday makers to give us a rural horror with twists.
Our vacationers in question are a young couple looking to spend a long weekend with the wilderness. Alas, after cooking on a stove, among other camping antics, would-be lovers Cass (Werner-Gray) and Mark (Tully) have their plans ruined by a loud scream in the forest. Leaving their mandatory horror skinny dip to investigate the pair split up and come across two expectedly unfriendly locals. Here we have the obligatory threatening law enforcement officer Deputy Helm (Daniel) waffling about bears, and the requisite visibly unhinged stranger Glen (Roth), who carries an empty cooler. So far, so horrorish. That night the couple’s tent gets interrupted by a timely knife attack and they find their car isn’t going to start. Wisely they wait there ‘til morning, when a new movie starts with the sun’s rays and Backwater finally does something unexpected.
The problem is the film’s now reached the 50 minute mark and done little to surprise us. Yet commendably the much needed change in direction result sees it make an admirably effortless transition into a different sort of horror movie. In what follows the threat’s nature becomes a bit more interesting, drawing on campfire legends, and for the last third there’s the signs of some definite (if emotionally fairly low-stake) tension. This is helped along by an invasive handheld style that goes places a found footage camera dare-not and some naturalistic dialogue (if not performances). The action sequences also become more energetic with the movie’s recently freshened momentum, and it starts to feel like this was maybe the movie Schrack intended to make all along. Unfortunately, as per the sole great scene in bigfoot thriller Willow Creek, it’s simply too little too late.
A slow build-up is forgivable, and often welcome, when it services the film’s plot and wider themes i.e. it ought to give the impression of a piece that has been well mapped out. Yet the only reason the characters’ arcs work at all is because they’ve been so poorly defined until that point. This is not helped by the charisma-lite performances (though in fairness Werner-Gray has her moment). The twist isn’t one that’ll make you say ‘of course’ as much as ‘huh?’ It even goes someway towards undermining much of the first half, rather than making the audience reconsider it. Consequently, whilst the latter sections carry some potential they also feel like a transparent attempt to force some life into the otherwise dead movie, akin to giving the kiss of life to a pork sausage. Throw in a forgettable denouement, and what you’re left with is a woodlands horror that’s less a great oak and more an old chestnut. By this point horror characters ought to know not to trust the woods as a site. Soon, I suspect horror audiences will too.