An old time almost slasher film tale is given great new energy in Robbie Barclay’s Backstroke.
What is it about the backwoods of the world that is so creepy to us? These normally peaceful or seemingly peaceful places always become the setting for creepy films or slasher films. Whether it is a summer camp in the Friday the 13th franchise, a river in Deliverance or a nice clearing in the woods that becomes a bloodbath when Bigfoot bounds down the mountains to pulverize campers in some B-movie, the film industry has taken these places and made them the backdrop to our nightmares. Well, add Backstroke to that canon of films and in doing so, add a “must watch” asterisk to it.
Backstroke starts with two runaways, Amber and Jake, boosting a car and hitting the road in the southern United States. They eventually pull over so Jake can answer the call of nature. During this time Amber finds a gun in the glove compartment and they take it and use some trees as target practice, which leads to a flirtatious moment that culminates with Jake chasing Amber through the woods. Amber gets a good head start and takes a skinny dip into a lake to entice Jake, but Jake does not come. Someone else does.
Backstroke has it all for a great creepy film, reminiscent of the slasher or thriller genre of the late seventies and early eighties (when the genre was actually good). It has a beautiful lead actress who is not so innocent. It has excellent cinematography from Daniel April and editing by Robbie Barclay (you can tell this was a passion project), which culminates in a wonderfully patient, creepy pace and an ending that makes you cover your eyes in trepidation. Robbie Barclay has made a wonderful short film here and this is coming from someone – me – who is not the biggest fan of horror and or slasher/thriller films. They creep me out and I usually stop watching them before they are over, but when viewing Backstroke, I could not turn away. I knew this was something special. It begins with a fun, reckless energy that perfectly matches the rush the runaways are feeling as they hit the road. That continues until Amber hits the lake, then it does a 180 and you get an apprehensive feeling in your gut when you hear those words, “Mornin’. How’s the water?” From that point forward Backstoke is best described as a bubble, maybe a soap bubble, with a fine tip needle hanging nanometers above it, both of them so close the bubble could pop and when or if it does, we may not want to be there. Finally, when those credits hit and that good ‘ole pop tune “Bottomed Out Bill” by Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands starts playing, I’m sure you’ll be doing the same as me. Singing along with that refrain, “Oooohhhh, Oooohhhh…”
By the end of Backstroke, you’ll sit back and realize you’ve seen this kind of movie a thousand times. But, instead of regret, you’ll be happy that you took the chance and watched this type of film for the 1001st time because Backstroke is totally worth it.