About the Film
Staunch independent film supporter and filmmaker Lucas McNelly’s latest movie UP COUNTRY is a stripped-down dramatic thriller set deep in the majestic and mysterious woods of Maine. With a small cast that includes filmmakers and actors Jonny Mars, and Tyler Peck, with actor Kieran Roberts rounding out the main trio of city slicker weekend warriors looking for a quiet day on the river trying to catch some fish when they are abandoned by their guide, who absconds with their gear, and are left to wander the forest alone, the tension mounts and the main thrust of the film begins as the three New Yorkers try to survive the wilderness, and maybe something even more sinister.
The chemistry between the main actors is good, and you can believe they’ve all been friends for a while with their easy back and forth candor. The decisions the characters make throughout the movie make sense, not relying on generic “horror logic” despite being put in some fairly traditional horror setups (the characters happen upon an eerie cabin in the woods, but if you’ve ever been deep in the woods of northern Maine, that’s not exactly fiction).
Using mostly natural lighting, the movie looks great for a low-budget indie outing. The only disappointing thing (aside from a couple of spots where the director tried some stylistic shots that didn’t work for me due to some noticeable pixelation which might have been intentional but didn’t really work for me) is that if UP COUNTRY were captured on actual 35mm film, it would look as good as anything coming out of the west coast. That said, the clean shots provided by digital cinematography look great, and the director uses a generous amount of depth of field and insert shots to provide a variety of splendor for the viewer to behold. Director and screenwriter Lucas McNelly does a wonderful job pacing this movie and ups the stakes at the right moments for his characters. There are only a couple sequences that seemed repetitive, but they work in the overall design of the movie because they are used mostly as character development. Be prepared though, there are a LOT of shots of the characters just wandering fairly aimlessly through the woods, happening upon the same road, or the same area of brush that takes you out of the narrative a little. To be fair to the characters though, there is some logic in them going in circles. Interestingly enough, his characters don’t really come off as entirely likable, but for some reason you want to see them succeed in getting out of the woods as they interact more, and you learn more about them.
The framing and scene compositions are well captured. The camera placement for each scene feels voyeuristic, often pulled back to take in the entire scene rather than back and forth shots and coverage between the actors. This gives a similar feeling that Kubrick has achieved in some of his films where you want to feel that not just the audience, but someone else might be watching from just out of frame.
For a movie set mostly outdoors and at a lower budget, the sound is great. You don’t get that hollow mix that some indies have at smaller budgets, and you don’t feel like every character line has been added in post-production.
Speaking of sound, the score for the film is used sparingly, but it’s effective. With music by Thom Robson, UP COUNTRY gives off a very specific vibe that is more than just your run-of-the-mill thriller tone dump. He gives life to Maine as vibrantly as the animals, insects, and other creatures lurking behind the trees and deep in the rivers.
UP COUNTRY is an indie sleeper that should be on everyone’s radar, and director/screenwriter Lucas McNelly is a mainstay in the indie film collective discussion (sometimes bringing a little too much of that northeastern bluntness to the table) comes by his indie cred honestly, having helped other filmmakers on their productions, always working to further the causes of independent creators, and being a positive influence on the community, whether we want to hear it or not. If you know Lucas McNelly, then you’ll know that UP COUNTRY is a quintessential McNelly film.