From the acclaimed director of a movie that no one saw comes a reboot of 2003’s Wrong Turn – the first in a franchise that no one really asked for and that has fared poorly in every iteration (the second has a small cult following but I’m fairly sure it’s only because of Henry Rollins.) This new one stars Matthew Modine (did he forget that he was in a Kubrick film?) and Bill Sage of We Are What We Are – a rare occurence of an American remake actually being better than the foreign original. As someone with a fondness for these two lads, I went into this with some hope. Read on to see where it all went terribly, terribly wrong.
Wrong Turn (2021) begins with Scott (Matthew Modine) worrying about his daughter’s lack of contact since going on a hike with her friends in the Appalachians. He speaks to the sheriff of the nearest hick town but he’s not overly helpful and lazily tells him to fill in a missing persons report. Several townsfolk say things to Scott about how no one who goes up there “comes out alive” (the people in town are surprisingly open and friendly when offering up integral story information.) We cut to six weeks earlier, where Jen (Scott’s daughter) and her friends have a bit of a time when they decide to veer from the trail and happen upon a group called The Foundation, who like to dress in Krampus costumes, set traps for anything or anyone who ventures into their land, and so on. Deaths occur, and plotlines and aesthetics are stolen from other films.
In an effort to better understand the world in which (I thought) this new film takes place, I decided to watch ALL of the Wrong Turn movies over one weekend. I’d only ever seen the first and was shocked to discover that there were six of them – how could so many people be so geographically illiterate? I remember watching the original when I was about 12 (good one, Dad) and it was my reference point for scary hillbillies as someone who hadn’t yet seen Deliverance. The original film was fine – a tight slasher that wasn’t too over the top and had enough gore and suspense to somewhat frighten a tween. The following five did not leave such an impact but what they did do was establish some lore and expectations, along with some incredibly horrid ways to kill 20-somethings.
Every film in this franchise prior to the reboot follows the following formula: a group of sexy idiots are going somewhere near or through the Appalachians and either get lost or lured into a trap, then Three Finger (the main antagonist whose cockroach-like survival skills are unsurpassed) turns up, sometimes accompanied by his brothers One Eye and Saw Tooth, and the sexy idiots get picked off one by one until there’s a final couple, a final girl, or no one. None of these films can be considered ‘good’ but a couple of them are definitely enjoyable if you relish in the awkward and ridiculous dialogue and the increasingly creative deaths. I actually became interested in the backstories of these three genetically-challenged, manflesh-loving brothers and almost developed a love for them (I’m in therapy, don’t worry.) Taking them out of a Wrong Turn film would be akin to having Halloween without Michael Myers or Nightmare without Freddy – it just wouldn’t work. And therein lies the problem.
This new film, perhaps in an effort to not appear formulaic, completely does away with writer Alan McElroy’s trio of inbred cannibals and swaps them for a group of somehow-European mountain men whose ancestors apparently set up shop before the Civil War. But the formula is still there – the sexy idiots do get picked off, it’s set in the same area, and The Foundation could be seen to be an early version of the family cult in Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort. What you lose from cutting out the cannibalism and inbreeding is everything – this is not a Wrong Turn film. There is no suspense, everything that’s supposed to look or be creepy is stolen from other films like Midsommar, Cub, and even parts of True Detective season 1, and so what you’ve then got left are the kills. I was worried about watching this on a laptop and it turned out I needn’t have been – most of the gore is from a distance and the violence often takes place just offscreen, and it leaves no impact whatsoever. The music is badly timed and alerts you to exactly when something is going to happen, and even the attempts at jump scares don’t work (and jump scares always work on me – I am a very nervous person.) Bill Sage unfortunately cannot do an accent (whatever the hell the accent is supposed to be) to save his life, and I just didn’t believe him as the patriarch of this ‘barbaric’ community. The sexy idiots don’t have any chemistry with one another (that’s one of the only things this film has in common with the other Wrong Turns) and Matthew Modine, despite being an actual actor, just kind of fumbles around in the woods until you get distracted by how much he looks like current Ted Danson. This is a minor spoiler but at one point, his guide gets squished into the ground by a studded plank that he triggered through a tripwire and Matty Modine goes to see if he’s alright. He’s impaled, my guy! It reminded me of a gag in the Scary Movie 3 opening and I’m just glad that there was something in this film that I could enjoy.
After it ended all I could think of was Alan McElroy and how he must’ve felt when asked to write this. Did he mourn his original characters? Did he have any reservations to lending the title to a film that doesn’t belong in the franchise? In scoring this I had to take into account the scores I would’ve given each sequel/prequel and then take off one extra point because of its total lack of guts. Perhaps if it weren’t affiliated with the Wrong Turn franchise I could be kinder, but someone decided to try and capitalise off of the existing fan base, and so I have to put it at the bottom. Matthew Modine asks his guide (before his spikey death) “Hey let me ask you something: why’d you agree to do this” and he replies “Money”. Nuff said. (2/10)
Wrong Turn is in cinemas now but I guess just see it when cinemas reopen. (WA)