Young couple Cass (Liana Werner-Gray) and Mark (Justin Tully) head to a secluded lake for a weekend camping, but within hours of arriving events begin to conspire against them. After hearing what they think is a cry for help, Mark convinces Cass to investigate. As Mark continues searching, Cass returns to camp only to be intercepted by a suspicious local sheriff who takes more than a passing interest in their presence. Mark, on the other hand, encounters a suspicious fisherman. There’s a lot of suspicion in the woods!
That night they come under attack from persons unknown and the chase is on.
Christopher Schrack’s Backwater could easily have been a routine, cliché-ridden entry into the backwoods murderer sub-genre so wearily sapped of originality by the ongoing Wrong Turn series. Instead, it is an example in restrained filmmaking; of how tension and terror can be generated through simple camera work and performances that never fall short of outstanding. There is a naturalistic feel at the centre of Schrack’s film, with the cast entirely convincing in their roles and the camera following them voyeuristically yet not invasively. While watching, you feel in the middle of the woods with the couple but you almost forget you’re watching a film, so effective is the softly handled direction. Obvious jump scares are also kept to a minimum with a bold reliance on silence used cunningly to crank up the tension, coupled with Schrack’s relaxed style which allows each scene to breathe, keeping the camera fixed on the subject for an uncomfortable length of time.
There is also real intelligence to Backwater. In dispensing with obvious tropes, Schrack has been able to develop a narrative that is both interesting and refreshing despite the familiarity of the initial premise. As the story progresses (and there will be no spoilers here), the tone switches back and forth as characters you thought you knew reveal more about themselves. Empathy gives way to disgust, fear gives way to sympathy, and as such Backwater becomes increasingly unsettling, never allowing you to find solace or comfort in an understanding of what is going on. Simple again, yet fear-inducingly effective.
The most amazing element to Backwater is that it was made for an estimated $40,000. It is rare enough to discover a film that is so terrifyingly involving and well-made, but even more so when you realise it was made for the kind of money that makes horror production company Blumhouse look like extravagant spenders. The achievement of Schrack and his team is all the more impressive then, but it is also an example that should be heeded. When the overwrought theatrics are dispensed with, when all you have are you wits and your crew, a film such as Backwater can be produced. It isn’t perfect, there are flaws and the ending is a little muddled, but this is a horror film in its truest form, a back-to-basics production that deserves an audience.
BACKWATER / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER SCHRACK / STARRING: JUSTIN TULLY, LIANA WERNER-GREY, THOMAS DANIEL, ANDREW ROTH / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 10TH (US DVD/VOD), TBC (UK)