Wrong Turn is the latest franchise to turn over a new leaf for a reboot after six increasingly bloody and lifeless sequels filled DVD shelves. Many horror fans remember the cult classic that was released in 2003 for its competent scares, the effectiveness of Stan Winston’s makeup designs, and the gleeful yells of cannibal Three-Finger who drove around with his inbred brothers in a squeaky truck. If you’d like an answer as to whether the new Wrong Turn sticks to any of this, look below. If you’re not interested in spoil-filled answers or in seeing such violent images, it’s okay to leave.
Still here? Great! One thing that I can say the original Wrong Turn and the new one helmed by Mike P. Nelson have in common is they both are effective. Characters aren’t simply there to unbutton shirts and die; but are trapped on the Appalachian Trail and hunted. Writer Alan B. McElroy returns and sidesteps the world he created and decides to make an adjacent one with few things in common to the original. Is this admirable? In this case, I believe so. As much as I’d love to see the original characters one more time, this is a film with something to say and acutely aware of the care it needs to take when using an existing franchise. There are winks, easter eggs, and characters die in brutal ways; but despite the misdirection, I was very entertained.
A group of young adults set off on a cross-country adventure through the Appalachian. Led by protagonist Jen Shaw (Charlotte Vega) they stop in a small rural town where they are warned to stay on the trail. Do they listen? I think we all know the answer to that. These are three happy and diverse couples that seem destined to piss off rural America. When a drunk pool player starts giving them an attitude, Jen points out their varying careers to show that they are not simply lazy millennials. The film deals a lot with assumptions and prejudice and the teens aren’t perfect; nor are they simply fodder guilty of horror movie sins. When horrifying moments begin to happen, the characters react, sometimes bravely, sometimes cowardly, as traps are sprung and hidden figures seem to be lurking behind the trees.
That’s half the story. The other half involves Jen’s father Scott (Matthew Modine) trying to track his daughter down. Both stories feel important and you get your money’s worth. Nelson’s direction is exceptional as he tracks all these characters through ravines and tunnels. The cinematography is handled with skill; the color grading desaturated. But not too desaturated. Blood still shows up and there is a great bit of practical effects that Nelson uses but doesn’t seem to linger on without a clear point. When the first casualty occurs, you feel it resonates with the group.
Which brings me to one of my few complaints. When we learn the five W’s for the carnage (who, what, when, where, why), there comes a point where the logic appears to become unraveled. It’s revealed that a group called The Foundation lives in isolation on the mountain; killing and judging trespassers while trying to create their own society. Think Appalachian-style Midsommar.
McElroy wants us to ask who the real monsters are in both this movie, and life, but one death seems to go unaccounted for when the protagonists are placed on trial. Perhaps I missed something but, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t acknowledged possibly because it would challenge the moral shades of grey the filmmakers are trying to lay out for us. Or maybe, just in the shock of the moment, logic wasn’t prevalent for the characters that had already gone through an hour of hell. Nevertheless, this is an ambitious and fun ride with good acting and great execution (pun intended). The last ten minutes leave open the possibility of a sequel, but more importantly, give us a satisfying end.
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