Christopher Schrack’s indie take on backwoods horror is further proof that a well executed good idea does not need millions of dollars behind it in order to entertain. Schrack takes a story we have seen countless times before-a young couple heads out to the woods for a romantic retreat only to find themselves hunted by an unseen threat-and tweaks the formula in a manner that keeps his audience engaged and on the edge of their seats throughout.
Cass and Mark (Liana Werner-Gray and Justin Tully respectively) are out to enjoy a weekend at the secluded lakeside Cass used to enjoy as a little girl. Their idyllic time away is shattered when they hear a cry for help in the wilderness. Torn over whether to seek them out or leave well enough alone, Mark’s good samaritan side kicks in while Cass gives up the ghost early. Separately they encounter a lone fisherman with a suspicious lack of equipment and the town’s sheriff that seems to have questionable motives for patrolling the woods. It comes as no surprise then that later in the night Mark and Cass find themselves attacked by and on the run from an unseen assailant. With their car disabled and their supplies strewn about the campsite, the duo are forced to hideout in order to survive the night.
Again, this is a scenario we’ve seen done countless times in film. If the above summed up the entirety of Backwater, it may not have been enough to sustain interest in the film. However, just at the stage the campsite invasion angle seems to grow stale, Schrack pulls a pair of out of left field turns that provide a jolt of momentum that sustains the rest of the picture. To say more is to give away crucial plot points of Backwater, but trust me when I tell you that the twists are smartly executed and make perfect sense with the information provided in the film’s first act.
Werner-Gray’s performance as Cass deserves special mention. From the outset she comes off as a cut above your typical horror movie heroine. She’s comparable with Sharni Vinson in You’re Next-smart, capable and better prepared for her environment than her somewhat hapless partner. At the same time Backwater takes turns which call into question Cass’ motives and make it difficult if not impossible to root for her. It’s a testament to Gray’s ability to tap into a very vulnerable side of herself that the audience shouldn’t turn their back on her completely in the run to the end of the film.
Fans of survival horror should seek out Backwater as it makes its way through the festival circuit. While the film has not been picked up for distribution as of yet, it should only be a matter of time before something this smart, tense and cleverly executed finds its way to reach homes everywhere.
Backwatermakes its Boston premiere Saturday November 29that the Somerville Theater