Blackfoot Trail (2014)

Blackfoot Trail (2014)

Survive

Urbanite boyfriend and girlfriend Alex and Jenn head to the Canadian wild for a romantic getaway. Having visited the woods several times in his life, an overconfident Alex shuns bringing a map or mobile phone and is determined to veer away from the hiking trails into the true wilderness along the Blackfoot Trail. Before they know it, Alex and Jenn find themselves lost and even worse, they end up stumbling into the hunting grounds of a black bear with a voracious appetite.

 

Based on a true story, apparently, Blackfoot Trail comes with an overhyped reputation. I’ve got to wonder what films other reviewers are watching when they claim that this “does for the woods what Jaws did for the ocean” or “the best horror movie in ages” which are two quotes plastered on the front cover of the DVD. Whilst it’s not the worst film you’re ever likely to see, Blackfoot Trail is hardly the second coming of Spielberg’s classic, nor is it remotely near the top ten horror films of the past year. I feel that some people just want to get their reviews on the front cover with some cheesy soundbites.

The premise of a killer bear is one that hasn’t been used too often – Grizzly from the late 70s springing to mind as the standout of this sparse sub-genre – and you have to wonder why. Bears are real. They are extremely dangerous when confronted in the wild. And they have attacked and killed hundreds of people across the world. So you’d expect them to be a little more popular when it comes to horror films. Grizzly, Grizzly Park, Grizzly Rage and Bear are the only four that spring to mind and looking at that ‘elite’ list it’s pretty easy to see why they’re not as popular as snakes or sharks.

Blackfoot Trail will do little to enhance the reputation of the killer bear sub-genre. At least it treats the material seriously and with as much respect as possible. This isn’t just a daft killer bear slasher-type film. This is a serious survival horror-thriller pitting man against nature. It is more interested with trying to create an ominous tone, knife-edge tension and rounded characters. Notice I said trying. Whilst the excellent cinematography goes a long way to providing an eerie and isolated location for the film, you need something else to build upon this. Sadly Blackfoot Trail provides little else.

The film is devoted to the two main stars and their relationship (and then the inevitable arguing and bickering when they get lost). Actually three quarters of the film is devoted to this character development, with the bear toddling into view with about slightly more than a quarter of the way to go. Whilst they are a fully-rounded couple, even if Alex is a bit too arrogant, I’m not really here to see squabbling between human characters. Too long is spent developing them as individuals and by the time we have got to know them, their continual domination of the film soon begins to bore the viewer. The danger needed to be introduced quicker and the film spend longer on them trying to stay together both physically and mentally. As it turns out, the bear shows up and the proverbial hits the fan way quicker than it should have done. This slow burn build needed a longer and more focused onslaught to really get us on the side of the characters, rather than the short, sharp burst towards the end of the film. The much-anticipated third act fails to materialise and the bear does its thing very quickly.

Whilst I’m not arguing for the bear to go crazy, you would expect a lot more pay-off than the eventual human-bear confrontation. The film is hardly soaked with blood, nor is the bear a killing machine. It savagely kills one character in the entire film and, whilst the attack inside a tent is pretty realistic, this is no gore factory. There are a few suspenseful moments inside the tent waiting for the bear to go away but this whole portion of the film is moved along far too quickly given how much time was spent building the characters up.

Arguably more suspense and tension comes from the introduction of Eric Balfour’s Irish guide early on in the film, who just so happens to stumble upon Alex and Jenn and immediately imposes himself as the alpha male, much to Alex’s annoyance. The “is he a psycho or just a friendly local?” narrative plays out over ten minutes or so and is far more interesting than the stuff with the bear. However his insignificant contribution to the film ends abruptly and pointlessly as his character never leads to anything worthwhile happening and seems to have been added to pad out a few extra scenes before they stumble across the bear.

 

Blackfoot Trail attempts to put its audience through the ringer by subjecting a couple of developed characters to the perils of Mother Nature. You’ll be sick of the characters by the time Mother Nature rears her bear-like form and, even then, she does her thing far too quickly to warrant such an overlong build-up. The film has suspense and tension in sporadic patches but it’s too forgettable to make a lasting impression.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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