Spring is in the air and so is the urge to end our hibernation and go outside for some adventure. But before you pack a backpack and get your camping gear in order, you may wanna ease yourself back into the great outdoors by watching the following wilderness-focused films. If anything, they’ll illustrate why it’s not always wise to approach Mother Nature unprepared.
To start, we’ve got Backcountry — a severe and dramatic account of what happens when a couple gets lost in the woods — and the decidedly more lighthearted Mountain Men, which is about two brothers stranded in the wild with no help in sight. (Note: Neither film is set in spring, but with ever-increasing threat of climate change, what’s the difference, right?)
Both movies feature eye-catching scenery, but also demonstrate how nature is a place where breathtaking beauty can give way to sudden danger, whether it be wildlife ready to turn you into a meal or nature’s unforgiving precariousness.
Our next two picks are horror flicks that take place in the countryside. The Windmill is about a sightseeing tour bus that breaks down near a maniac’s habitat, and The Eyes of My Mother is an art house portrayal of a family gone insane. Both are stark reminders that living in the boondocks has its disadvantages when killers are on the loose.
The fifth and final choice for your weekend viewing is set in the deserts of Afghanistan and Nevada. Good Kill is a thought-provoking look at how today’s wars are being fought like video games, providing further evidence that man’s biggest threat is not just the harsh elements of mother nature, but the dark impulses of human nature.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Starring: Missy Peregrym, Jeff Roop, Eric Balfour
Director: Adam MacDonald
Genre: Drama, Adventure, Thriller
Inspired by actual events, Backcountry tells the tale of a young couple from the city who set off on a romantic camping trip, only to encounter the dangerous wrath of Mother Nature when they get lost in the woods.
There always seems to be people who watch these types of man vs. nature films and think that if they were in a similar scenario they’d make all the right moves. While it’s true some people are better at surviving in nature, one has to figure that the average person would make mistakes or simply be overtaken by fear.
In that sense, most of Backcountry comes off as believable. The tribulations of the suffering couple are things that could happen to any one of us in the wild. Once invested in the characters, it’s easier to forgive some of the film’s minor flaws, like the inconsistent handling of time (what’s supposed to be an entire day seems more like just a few elapsed hours). But those flaws are offset by some sweat-inducing moments of tension and truly gory scenes that’ll make you flinch
Mountain Men (2014)
Starring: Tyler Labine, Chace Crawford
Director: Cameron Labine
Genre: Drama, Adventure, Comedy
Toph (Tyler Labine of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil fame) and Cooper (Chace Crawford) are two grown brothers with not a lot in common, who head up to a family cabin in the Canadian Rockies for one fateful weekend. Toph, a DJ/ pot dealer with a pregnant girlfriend, sees the excursion as a chance to spend some rare quality time with his younger, more successful sibling, who has never properly dealt with their father’s death.
But the brothers’ mini-getaway takes an unexpected turn, and they soon find themselves trying to survive in the heavy snow together—that is if they can stop arguing. (The natural back and forth between the gregarious slacker Toph and no-nonsense Cooper generates some genuine laughs.)
Eventually, the bros begin to bond, but the film never dips into syrupy shenanigans. In other words, Mountain Men is not a slapstick type of movie. Rather, it effectively explores what being a man is, and gets into how difficult it can be to deal with the pressures and hang-ups we inherit from our family tree.
The Windmill (2016)
Starring: Charlotte Beaumont, Noah Taylor, Patrick Baladi, Fiona Hampton
Director: Nick Jongerius
Genre: Horror, Supernatural
A horror movie called The Windmill doesn’t exactly sound all that scary. Do the victims die from boredom watching the windmill sails go round and round?
Fortunately, the excitement in this Dutch slasher (originally titled The Windmill Massacre) is raised quite a few levels by the presence of a monstrous miller wielding a massive scythe. If that weren’t enough, the villain, who is killing off unlucky tourists stranded in the countryside, also has evil superpowers that causes victims to have hellish hallucinations.
What makes The Windmill work is how it’s able to blend retro ‘80s elements like extremely graphic special effects with contemporary filmmaking techniques. That the movie is set abroad and features an international cast, adding just enough of an unfamiliar twist for those watching in the States, makes this slasher feel somewhat refreshing.
The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
Starring: Kika Magalhães
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Genre: Horror, Drama
Shot in black and white, The Eyes of My Mother is a disturbing tale (can’t emphasize that enough) of a woman raised in the country whose life was permanently fractured by a brutal childhood incident involving her seemingly unstable immigrant mom.
At the heart of this morbid story is how our experiences growing up with our families can blur the line between what is normal and abnormal. The film also suggests that mental health issues can be passed on to the next generation. But what conjures up the most dread here is the miserable state of loneliness the lead character is trapped in. The film’s sad, shadowy cinematography creates a mood that bright colors never could. The idyllic rural setting, though serene, also has a sinister edge. The woman, eerily played by Kika Magalhães, has spent her entire life isolated in a farmhouse that’s far enough away for no help to come when bad things start to happen.
Director Nicolas Pesce doesn’t rely on the typical manipulative horror movie tricks in The Eyes of My Mother. The matter-of-fact manner in which the mayhem is presented is what makes this portrait of mental illness so unsettling.
Good Kill (2014)
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood, January Jones,
Director: Andrew Niccol
Genre: Drama, War
Good Kill is a different kind of war film, made in an era when aerial combat has increasingly become more like a first-person shooter video game. It’s a point driven home by Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (played by the ever reliable Bruce Greenwood) in a speech he routinely gives, breaking down how the U.S. military has modeled certain technology on Xbox and recruited gamers to join their ranks. The speech is almost humorous until he warns the newcomers: “Make no fucking mistake about it, we are killing people… this ain’t fucking PlayStation.”
These are important words to remember when drones have made it possible to shoot missiles at people, including innocent bystanders, from thousands of miles away. It’s a moral dilemma: How fair is it to kill with the push of a button and risk nothing in return but a guilty conscience? And yet that guilt can be a heavy burden for the drone pilots, whose job is to bomb suspected terrorists and their families in their desert homes in the Middle East, then go home to their own families living in the Nevada desert — a grueling reminder of the burden soldiers must reckon with on a daily basis.