GORE IN THE STORE
WRONG TURN ****
Directed by Mike P. Nelson.
Starring Matthew Modine, Charlotte Vega, Emma Dumont, Daisy Head, Bill Sage, Dylan McTee.
Horror/Thriller, USA/UK/Germany, 109 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on digital platforms by Signature Entertainment on 26th February 2021 and on DVD & Blu-ray on 3rd May 2021.
Given that we are now in the third decade of the 21st century there is a good chance that we can expect a lot of movies from the early 2000s getting a reboot, seeing as enough time has passed and several franchises that started during those years have run themselves into the ground with increasingly dumb direct-to-DVD sequels. WRONG TURN definitely qualifies as one of those, starting out as a straightforward clone of THE HILLS HAVE EYES/THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE-style hillbilly horror with a bit of DELIVERANCE-style action thrown in for good measure, and five films later forcing some weird cult mythology into the formulaic slasher mix. Although WRONG TURN 6:LAST RESORT had its appeal for hardcore gore hounds it did, for all intents and purposes, kill off the franchise.
And so here we are in 2021 with a reboot, an entirely new mythology and one or two surprises if you're expecting the cartoonish mutant cannibals of old. Some of the genre trappings are still present – yes, a group of annoying young people hike into the mountains despite warnings from the locals to steer clear – and at first you could be forgiven for thinking that this movie is trying too hard to be different from its source material with its checklist of characters and TAKEN-ish setup, but once the action starts to kick in – rather swiftly, it must be said – then the reasons for the choices it makes are obvious – WRONG TURN 2021 is messing with your expectations.
Written by Alan B. McElroy, who wrote the original, Wrong Turn deliberately eschews the slasher formula in favour of more nuanced (and politically-charged) folk horror but drops in little moments that let you know that the filmmakers haven't totally forgotten what you came for. You want to see crushed heads? You can. Stabbings? Check. Eyes being melted with a red-hot poker? It's here, only done in a different way than it would have been in the franchise’s original run. In between the brutal slayings this movie’s Scooby Gang fall foul of The Foundation, a breakaway group whose ancestors moved up into the mountains when they thought their way of life was under threat from the developing world, and the middle section of the film slows the action down as the youngsters discover why they have been captured. Tonally this is where WRONG TURN goes into folk horror territory as Nordic folklore symbolism replaces the cannibalistic terror of the original movies, and it is very effective in creating a deeper sense of dread without compromising on the violence. If nothing else it stops the movie becoming one long chase, which is basically what the previous movies became.
But for all the good it does in reimagining WRONG TURN as a more serious and brutal survival horror, the movie does feel a little disjointed at times, like the filmmakers are padding to fill the long (for this type of movie) running time, the very quick setup and slower mid-section leading to point where it would probably end if it were the pacier slasher version, only to have another 45 minutes to go. As well as the inconsistent pacing there are a few nonsensical plot moments that aren’t quite enough to take the movie into dim-witted territory but one has to ask how five people can pitch a tent in a cemetery at night and not even realise until one of them trips over a headstone right outside the door the next morning. Yes, it was dark but come on!
With a strong lead performance from Charlotte Vega as Jen, the missing daughter who father Scott (Matthew Modine) is searching for, WRONG TURN looks fantastic, features all practical gore effects and casts an eye back to the shooting style of Marcus Nispel’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – released in 2003, the same year as the original WRONG TURN – in places without wholly emulating (and with improved lighting and no artificial colour saturation). Whether WRONG TURN represents a renaissance for violent horror/thrillers with balls in the 2020s, like that movie did for the 2000s, remains to be seen but it is a promising start, and despite it not being very groundbreaking or original WRONG TURN is a shining example of how to reboot a franchise without being a slave to what went before. Let's hope others take note for when the inevitable next wave of remakes comes along.