Director: Mike P. Nelson
Notable Cast: Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head
The Wrong Turn franchise has been something of a pleasure of mine. While the first two films in the long-running slasher series feature some creative and well-executed concepts, in two very different tones, the rest of the four sequels have de-evolved into low-brow slasher silliness. The ‘turn off your brain’ kind of entertainment one would expect from a direct-to-home-video slasher franchise. The latest installment of the series, a reboot with the clever title Wrong Turn (I hope you all can feel my eye roll as I type that), aims to not only bring a new life into a franchise treading water, but one that also aims for loftier goals of embedding a message into the material. That’s right, no longer is this just a series of films about inbred cannibals in West Virginia slaughtering people in questionable states of clothing, but it’s going to say something about it.
Outside of a snide comment in the third act about kids choosing to watch films about inbred mountain cannibals with a sly hardy-har-har by the characters, Wrong Turn truly does aim to rise above where the series has been for the last decade. Whether that choice works is more or less a preferential debate, but the intentions are clear.
Director Mike P. Nelson and writer Alan McElroy are aiming high and even decide to give the plot and narrative a dual path. The first part is a father, played by Matthew Modine, looking for his daughter that went missing in the Appalachian Mountains. The other plot is six weeks earlier when a group of 20-somethings are looking to hike in the mountains on a little trip where, predictably, they run across the local mountain people who deem them as trespassers. Naturally, these locals and the kids don’t gel and the resulting first half of the film very much plays its cards like a traditional Wrong Turn flick, albeit with the dual narrative.
Yet, there is a bit more artistry on display here than almost any film of the franchise. Not only is the quality overall better, including better cinematography and better performances, but there are some intriguing considerations in the plot that arise to themes. Wrong Turn toys with messages about the intolerance of those who live different lifestyles as a younger generation is confronted with rural life and the wilderness. It’s unfortunate those messages tend to crumble underneath too much scrutiny thanks to its slasher structure and all attempts at reaching The Woman or Darlin’ levels of social commentary can fall flat. Still, for a franchise mostly known for gore and simplicity, the attempts certainly deserve some respect.
Wrong Turn also injects some intriguing style to the mixture. It’s a far more realistic horror experience than any of the previous entries, focusing on more grit and realism (sans a giant rolling log that completely forgets how physics and forests work) and the villains of the film are less creatures and more just kooky survivalists that love to wear antlers, fur, and skulls. If anything, the film presents its most intriguing ideas in the final act - with an incredible final shot that leads into the credits, but to dig too much into that spoils the experience. Trust that it starts to lean into more interesting territory that makes for a more unique and refreshing experience. Too bad the entire film wasn’t like the last half of the final act.
Considering its birthplace, Wrong Turn is still a large step in the right direction. It abandons the modern and cheap exploitation slasher tones for a grittier and more modern look and approach that deserves some respect. Its attempts at a social commentary are perhaps a bit too ambitious for its foundational structure, but again - it’s something new to the franchise worth mentioning. It’s just unfortunate that so much of its core pieces are still so formulaic and mid-tier. The kids are still fodder and the plotting still a bit too predictable. If anything, the real reason to support this is the ideas it seeds for future installments if the franchise were to continue, particularly where it ends up at the end and for some decently fun kill sequences. Wrong Turn will ultimately split fans and it’s not quite good enough to truly reignite the passion for the franchise, but it’s certainly a step up from many of the other sequels.