Studio: Saban Films
Director: Mike P. Nelson
Writer: Alan McElroy
Producer: Robert Kulzer, James Harris
Stars: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Tim deZarn, Vardaan Arora, Adrian Favela, Matthew Modine
Six friends hiking the Appalachian Trail cross paths with a mysterious backwoods cult that predates the American Civil War.
¡°Wrong Turn¡± 2021, which might alternately be subtitled ¡°Wrong Turn: The Foundation¡± according to its Amazon preorder page, purportedly remakes, reboots, or re-imagines the 2003 original. In that franchise-starting film, Eliza Dushku and company ran afoul of inbred cannibals who tortured and terrorized a gaggle of pretty people with the unfortunate luck of getting stuck on their rural mountain.
The 2003 and 2021 versions share a producer, writer, and general concept. But ¡°Wrong Turn¡± 2021 is enough of its own thing that it probably could have been ¡°Wrong Turn 7¡± or something else entirely. The main difference is that the local yokels, who of course speak ominously while sizing up outsiders with judgmental stares, are now mostly a misdirect. The real antagonist this time around is ¡®The Foundation,¡¯ a secretive commune dating back to before the Civil War. A cross between a cult and M. Night Shyamalan¡¯s ¡°The Village,¡± they¡¯ve been hiding deep in a Virginian forest to preserve their anachronistic way of living. The Foundation has been off the grid for so long, some people don¡¯t believe it still exists.
I rarely ever read a movie¡¯s marketing materials. They pretty much consist of boilerplate blather barfing up recycled keywords or other disposable declarations cut-and-pasted by a copywriting intern.
Recently though, a few films have taken to sending out ¡°director¡¯s statements¡± instead of just the usual spam. There¡¯s still a minefield of hyperbole to navigate through, as these releases contain a lot of generic fluff too. Yet some of them have been genuinely useful for getting an insightful bit of real background about the filmmaker¡¯s goals.
In his statement for ¡°Wrong Turn¡± 2021, director Mike P. Nelson said this about The Foundation: ¡°¡it¡¯s important to me that they are not your typical bad guys. They¡¯re not the backwoods hicks. They¡¯re not the white supremacists. This is a community of people who are very intelligent and very proud of their way of life. They will do whatever it takes to defend it.¡±
Nelson¡¯s refreshing take piqued my curiosity in a movie I otherwise wouldn¡¯t be overly enthused about. Ever since ¡°Deliverance,¡± we¡¯ve seen deranged hillbillies gleefully gore city folk countless times, including in five ¡°Wrong Turn¡± sequels. Shifting the premise to a greyer area where perceived villains are more ¡°we just want to be left alone¡± than ¡°hee haw, let¡¯s git that purty one!¡± opens avenues for more substantial storytelling. Plus, I¡¯ll take kooky cults wearing bizarre outfits who follow weirdo dogma any day.
With that starting point, ¡°Wrong Turn¡± tries subverting some typical clich¨¦s. What if the group of friends with two gay men and an interracial couple is actually more intolerant than the backwoods bumpkins are? Anti-inclusivity goons who hate Star Wars for ¡°forcing¡± an Asian woman into a key role probably think this ¡°Wrong Turn¡± tries too hard to be ¡°woke¡± too, given the melting pot group dynamics. Anyone leaning along those lines proves the movie¡¯s point. ¡°Wrong Turn¡± intentionally plays with prejudice to shine a little light on bigoted beliefs, but also to shimmy around predictability.
Another quote from Nelson: ¡°¡we wanted to make a movie that surprises audiences. They think the movie is going one way and we take them down a completely different turn. This is a movie where the audience will think they know who these characters are and we¡¯ll completely flip that prejudice on its head.¡±
You can see what I mean about separating honesty from hype in a ¡®director¡¯s statement¡¯ in the excerpt above. Nelson makes a few objectively true assertions about ¡°Wrong Turn,¡± although the word ¡°completely¡± twice adds an exaggeration that isn¡¯t entirely earned.
¡°Wrong Turn¡± colors its hillbilly herring so red, viewers can easily suss out the road being traveled, even more so with the foreknowledge that The Foundation poses the bigger problem for the protagonists. Certain pieces are conspicuously positioned to not be what they seem on the surface, so our sympathies and suspicions can only be toyed with to a limited degree, which isn¡¯t as far as Nelson might like to think. Nevertheless, ¡°Wrong Turn¡¯s¡± attempts to turn expectations on their ears keep the film moving in engaging directions, even if they are only baby steps beyond what routine B-movies do.
¡°Wrong Turn¡± still gets hung up on other tropes. No matter how many horror movies I see set in the woods, I¡¯ll never understand why people who need to pee will wander far enough away from camp that they can disappear or get abducted. I¡¯m not an outdoors person. Movies like ¡°Wrong Turn¡± stoke enough fears about bad things happening in the forest that I never will be. But how is it that no one can ever find an out of the way bush that¡¯s still within a tent¡¯s line of sight?
¡°Wrong Turn¡± doesn¡¯t suffer death by a thousand cuts, but little details like those slice into its believability as escapist entertainment. Bill Sage, who plays Foundation elder Venable, looks like he just rose from a salon chair. I don¡¯t know if the film started shooting immediately after casting completed. But it seems someone should have said to Sage, ¡°Can you maybe grow your hair out until the start date, or at least not have it professionally cut and styled? You¡¯re supposed to be a backwoods hermit, not a ¡®Just for Men¡¯ model.¡±
¡°Six weeks later¡± separates ¡°Wrong Turn¡¯s¡± two chapters. The story requires a gap to makes two things possible, with one of those things being Matthew Modine¡¯s daughter going missing long enough for him to start looking for her. The tradeoff is that six weeks isn¡¯t long enough for the other thing that happens to seem realistic. Alan McElroy¡¯s script could have changed the time period to six months, add a reason why Modine waited that long to begin searching, and the other half would be an easier pill to swallow.
Speaking of time, ¡°Wrong Turn¡± takes a lot of it. The film runs one hour and 50 minutes, a good 20 minutes longer than average, and it exhausts every second since the final shot plays all the way through the end credits. (Fun fact: Matthew Modine¡¯s real-life daughter Ruby Modine, whom horror fans know from the ¡°Happy Death Day¡± movies (review here), sings a cover of Woodie Guthrie¡¯s ¡°This Land Is Your Land¡± over end credits.) Do we need a ¡®flat tire¡¯ scene that nothing comes of except a callback to the first film? Does Modine need to be shown with his daughter¡¯s stepmother and her two sons in an interlude? ¡°Wrong Turn¡± could cut a lot of its exposition, and could really whittle a looong climax that thinks it comes from ¡°Return of the King,¡± and the added leanness would make for a livelier ride.
Playing my own Devil¡¯s Advocate however, I can¡¯t help but appreciate how many details ¡°Wrong Turn¡± packs in. If it didn¡¯t, I might accuse its characters of being cardboard, or its plot points too focused on getting directly down to business and nothing else. But that attention to development gives ¡°Wrong Turn¡± its depth.
¡°Wrong Turn¡± fills out with experienced actors creating authentic alter egos, not cheap newbies woodenly reciting dry lines. Several scenes showcase gruesome FX worthy of adorning their own Fangoria covers. Bone-breaking stunt work sees its intense action accented by energetic editing. Getting to the bottom line, ¡°Wrong Turn¡± isn¡¯t a ¡°retain the rights¡± rush job. It¡¯s a well-crafted thriller with a fair number of things falling into its favor.
I¡¯ve been asked before, ¡°How can you like Movie X better than Movie Y?¡± I try to remind readers that review scores are relative. Just because I rate one film a 55 and another one a 75 doesn¡¯t necessarily mean I think the 75 was better made, or even that I enjoyed it more. Movies are evaluated on individual scales. Inherently, a DTV Amityville flick will probably always score lower than let¡¯s say a ¡°Jurassic Park¡± sequel. But I¡¯m not going to judge a DIY creature feature or whatever against the same standards I¡¯d apply to a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster or Marvel movie.
Imagining an illustrative argument, I¡¯m picturing someone seeing my review of A24¡¯s ¡°Saint Maud¡± (review here), which I scored 50/100, and asking with some miffness, ¡°How can you rate ¡®Wrong Turn¡¯ higher? ¡®Saint Maud¡¯ is an artistic achievement that¡¯s emotionally introspective and thematically challenging. ¡®Wrong Turn¡¯ is just another pseudo-slasher readymade for Syfy!¡±
Even though they are both horror ¡°fruit¡± so to speak, comparing ¡°Saint Maud¡± to ¡°Wrong Turn¡± is comparing papayas to peaches in my view. But here¡¯s how I would respond to such a question. I¡¯m not entirely sure what I watched with ¡°Saint Maud,¡± or if the movie even knows for certain what it¡¯s about. During and after that screening, I sat there with questions about the film¡¯s purpose, ultimate value, and whether it meant anything to me personally. ¡°Wrong Turn¡± on the other hand, understands its identity. When I watch a move like this, I know what I¡¯m getting: a no muss, little fuss horror film that holds my attention with a clear story, crafty kills, and satisfying entertainment for Friday night frights.
Review Score: 65