One Of The Scariest Scenes In Backcountry Is A Wild Bear Attack

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror with your tour guides, horror experts Chris Evangelista and Matt Donato. In this edition, Matt says hell naw to nature thanks to "Backcountry.")

In honor of "Cocaine Bear," let's look back on a mid-2010s wildlife horror film that shows what bears are capable of without drug enhancements. Humans love to connect with nature, pitching tents and roughing it deep within forestation, but we forget we're visitors to occupied territories. Deers might flee in fear, rabbits might scamper away, but bears are better experienced on your movie screens as drug smuggler punishers. Movies like "Backcountry" remind us what makes an animal wild, especially bears who can end some lives with a few paw swipes.

Adam MacDonald does well to represent the foolishness of campers who consider themselves outdoorsy just because they bought some all-weather equipment. Whatever horror exists doesn't need supernatural influences or fantasy creatures. "Backcountry" does for camping trips what "Jaws" did for water and "The Visit" did for grandparents — good luck venturing out into national parks without remembering MacDonald's feature debut. All he needs is a black bear and slim escape chances to make his point about respecting Mother Nature.

The setup

Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop play a backpacking couple venturing into the wilderness for a bit of escapism and adventure. Alex (Roop) wants to share his favorite childhood hiking trail with girlfriend Jenn (Peregrym), especially since they lead far more urban lifestyles. Jenn is especially attached to her phone, so Alex organizes their trip so she can see the same picturesque lakefront he talks about so fondly. Jenn plays along as not to hurt Alex's feelings, which makes clear who is more excited to become one with nature.

The story so far

Alex is a bit cocky with his macho alpha routine, and refuses a map that would help navigate the provincial park. He swears his memory will guide the way, which Jenn tolerates. They survive alright until their first night together, when a tour guide (Brad, played by Eric Balfour) finds their campsite and Jenn invites him for dinner. Things get a bit saucy when Brad appears flirtatious toward Jenn, which Alex calls out before Brad eventually leaves. Alex hopes that's the last he'll see of the unwelcome guest.

Things go from bad to worse the next day when Alex decides to take them off-trail, without a map, and gets lost. Alex previously snatched Jenn's phone from her pack and left it in the car so she wouldn't be distracted all trip, so now they have no way of contacting help. There's some arguing, obvious tension, and then Alex reveals he hoped to propose to Jenn at the perfect moment should he have found their destination. It's a whole lot of relationship drama that distracts from the real issue at hand — Alex ignored a bear paw track, presses on with Jenn after they find a half-eaten deer carcass, and eventually, they wander near a bear bed. Alex pushes forward hoping to get as far as away from the bear threat that looms, but the couple wakes the next morning to a massive black bear not far outside their tent. 

The scene

The scene starts with a warmer reconciliation between Alex and Jenn. Alex assures Jenn they'll be "OK," Jenn leans in for an "I know," then a kiss to seal her trust. This is right before Alex unzips their flimsy fabric tent and sees a black bear not nearly far enough away for comfort.

Alex instructs Jenn to stay quiet, then wonders aloud what the bear is doing. Jenn presumes the animal has returned to steal their food for a second time, which they both hope is the extent of the interaction. The bear starts lumbering on all fours towards the tent, so Alex zips their hatch door.

"Please move on," Alex mutters like a last-ditch prayer.

As the bear continues its approach, Alex checks their supplies. They have no food to use for a distraction, and Alex's axe is in his bag which he left by the fire. Jenn has her bear repellant spray, but that's their only means of defense.

The bear reaches the tent as Alex and Jenn sit helpless, its paw pressing against the easily tearable shelter. Each breath gets heavier, as the creature sniffs at what's inside. The bear wants to get in — the score drops to complete silence. The camera holds on Alex and Jenn as they wait to see what happens next, which is when the bear slashes through their weak enclosure entrance.

The bear starts growling and swiping, slashing open Jenn's arm. Blood springs down her wrist and starts coating the tent's bottom. Another swipe tears open her other forearm, and more blood hits the tent's inside wall. Alex tells Jenn to get behind him, as the volume cuts in and out to represent Jenn's fragile mental state. Alex tries to punch and kick the bear until he leaves, but the blows are useless. The bear turns attention to Alex and bites into his leg, clamped down hard, until Jenn uses the bear spray to drive the ferocious invader away.

Jenn tends to Alex's gushing wound, thinking the worst is over. She tries to pump Alex up enough to crawl away, but he's in full panic mode, screaming about how he's going to die. Jenn ruses to let Alex believe such dismal thoughts — until another growl is heard from outside. The bear isn't gone, and both sense what's about to happen.

The bear reappears in the tent and drags Alex outside as Jenn can only quiver in fear. There's nothing she can do. Alex's agonizing yelps can be heard as he's torn to shreds yards away. Jenn is paralyzed. Alex's face is mauled half-off, flaps of flesh dangling unattached. Alex's last breaths are used urging Jenn to run, but she just sits there, stuck in an impossible moment listening to the man she loves be chewed apart. It is, without any hyperbole, the purest representation of realism-based horror.

The impact (Chris' Take)

I feel like I'd bee doomed if I ever saw a bear in a wild. Doomed, I tells ya. Because every time I see one of these animals, even in a movie where they're mauling someone to death, I can't help but think, "So cute!" I mean look at that image above. Look at how cute that bear looks! Sure, he might bite your entire face off. But also: cute. As for this scene in question, there's a lot to appreciate here, first and foremost the fact that a real bear was used (technically there were two bears, named Chester and Charlie). "Cocaine Bear" uses a completely CGI animal, and while that makes sense and is no doubt far more humane than forcing wild creatures to perform, there's something to be said of a movie using a real bear to create its killer bear story. The actors were no doubt in no real danger here, and probably never got within a few feet of any real bears. But the editing and sound design work like gangbusters convincing us this creature is getting up close and personal.