Wrong Turn is a more substantive work than the film that spawned five sequels

By: Steve Pulaski

It just goes to show these are truly weird times when the first great horror film of the year is a reboot of a movie not even old enough to vote yet.

It’s hard not to react with some cynicism upon seeing a reboot of Wrong Turn come to fruition. Released in 2003, the film spawned five sequels and capitalized on the fledgling trend of backwoods horror flicks of the era (The Hills Have Eyes, House of 1000 Corpses). The fact that we recently witnessed two utterly useless remakes of contemporary horror films Cabin Fever and The Grudge (2020) understandably doesn’t inspire much confidence in a viewer even remotely curious about yet another Wrong Turn.

Breathe a sigh of relief: this reboot earns its place. Screenwriter Alan McElroy (who penned the original film) clearly went through a maturation process with his idea. He grants this do-over compelling political subtext ala Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno. Beyond that, it doesn’t skimp on bloodshed and brutality, tagging all bases for curious parties.

A signature aspect of the Wrong Turn series has been omitted with this installment. We’ll discuss that later. The story centers on a group of six trendy, diverse young hikers who decide to traverse the Appalachian trail in search of a rare Civil War fort. Group roll-call: Jen (Charlotte Vega) and her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley), a proclaimed socialist working for a non-profit; hot-headed Adam (Dylan McTee) and his fiancée Milla (Emma Dumont); and Gary (singer Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela), a gay couple. The group looks like they were plucked and assembled from any private liberal arts college in America (takes one to know one — you’re reading the words of a graduate from one of those institutions).

The group isn’t outwardly hostile, but they harbor that predictably holier-and-wiser-than-thou attitude, which is unmistakably shown when the outsiders offend barroom locals in a small Virginia town. “Don’t tread on me” attitudes clash with “Green New Deal” optimism when the fresh-outta-college crowd make off-handed comments. They shake it off and head out to the woods where they ignore advice and take a detour off the trail, which lands them in territory belonging to “The Foundation.” The Foundation is a self-sufficient community established by a group of families who fled society in fear of America’s imminent collapse in the late 1800s. They disguise themselves in animal skulls and moss, and have laid traps throughout the woods. The group’s introduction comes when a massive tree-trunk tumbles down the mountain, significantly injuring and even killing one of them. Adam is later dragged into an underground lair by way of a long chain. Things get frightening fast when the group encounter members and learn of the region’s legendary societal rejects.

To the disappointment of some, The Foundation is not an army of cannibals as the Wrong Turn brand would suggest. Led by the honorable Venable (Bill Sage), they’re actually granted a great deal of humanization as individuals who have found a way to take what the land gives them. When the surviving hikers are put on trial for murder, they are criticized intensely for suggesting the Foundation’s ways of life are barbaric. There is no cancer in their community: no greed, no racism, no inequality. People lean on each other. Law and order is unambiguous, but infractions will be punished in cruel ways, so the group learns.

Interjected in the story is Scott (Matthew Modine), Jen’s father, unnerved when she is gone without a trace for several weeks. He gets little help from law enforcement. Locals are convinced that Jen’s disappearance is the work of the Foundation, leading him to seek the help of brave individuals willing to traverse the trap-laden mountain in hopes he can retrieve her.

I suppose McElroy could’ve made the Foundation members cannibalistic while still enacting potent commentary on the bridges we must create in order to understand contrasting lifestyles. Although I do believe the approach, had it been akin to the original Wrong Turn — a modestly entertaining flick — might’ve resorted to cartoonish sequences for gore’s sake. McElroy and Nelson are more concerned with building palpable tension along with two contrasting worlds. This gives what could’ve been a flaccid shot-for-shot remake (looking at you, Cabin Fever) some substance to compliment its body-count.

Being that many love to piss and moan about the politicization of entertainment these days, you can still enjoy Wrong Turn as a horror film if you so desire. Aiding the conceit are committed performances from Vega, who is on-board from the first frame in a dirty, physical performance, Modine, and Sage, who plays a relatively understated villain with poise.

Frankly, reader, I’m as puzzled as you. When a friend told me about a Wrong Turn reboot in December, I was more than skeptical. I was baffled and voiced my contempt aloud to no one in particular. I love when an unassuming film proves me wrong and does so all the way up to a diabolical ending. Against all odds, from the concrete grew a rose with Wrong Turn.

NOTE: Wrong Turn is now available to rent via Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, and Vudu.

Grade: A-

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDdGpjjtq-o [/embedyt]