Though it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, Wrong Turn is a satisfying horror experience aided by impressive makeup and prosthetics.
The “city kids go out to the country and bad things happen” trope is pretty well-trod territory in the horror genre. With the Evil Dead series as the gold standard, there have been countless other films to explore this idea. Occasionally, we might get something cool and original like Cabin In The Woods (2011), but a lot of these can end up falling down the same rabbit hole and deliver more or less the same old thing over and over again. The most recent film to tackle this concept of young city folk roughing it out in rural areas is Wrong Turn, a soft reboot of the Wrong Turn franchise. I have not seen the other Wrong Turn films, so I can only focus on the film I have in front of me.
Wrong Turn focuses on Jen (Charlotte Vega) and a group of her friends who go missing while hiking the Appalachian Trail. When her father, Scott (Matthew Modine), follows her trail in search of answers, he will discover that the truth is more horrifying than he could have imagined.
Initially, Wrong Turn sets itself up to be a pretty standard slasher film: You have your young people going out to the country, they gawk at the backwards locals with an air of pretension, then they go off into the woods where spooky bad things await them. Even here, however, the movie does have two things working in its favor to make it stand out from other cookie-cutter slasher films. First, it has a framing device where it opens with Scott showing up in the town where Jen went missing, and then Jen’s story is seen as a flashback to give the audience context to answers for which Scott is searching; not quite ground-breaking, but different enough from the usual slasher formula that I thought it was worth noting. Second, the characters are more interesting than your standard horror movie fodder. I’m not saying that they’re particularly nuanced or completely free of archetypal qualities, but Wrong Turn takes the time to give these young people actual personalities and backstories, so you at least care a little bit once they start running into trouble later on.
Wrong Turn’s identity as a slasher, however, really only lasts through the first third of the film’s runtime. At the end of the narrative’s first act, the plot takes a turn that I honestly wasn’t expecting. I would not call it a “plot twist” (it’s more of a “plot development,” really), but it takes the film in a new direction that not only keeps the story interesting, but changes the kind of horror on screen. And the transition is pretty effortless: the film’s tone stays consistent, the plot doesn’t jump the shark, and past character actions are actually readdressed and recontextualized, reminding the audience that these peoples’ choices actually matter and make a difference.
I also need to commend the makeup department because they do an excellent job. There is some gnarly body horror in this movie, and the prosthetics and use of fake blood throughout are really well done. Wrong Turn actually does itself a favor by not being too gory (this isn’t an Eli Roth movie or anything), so when you are presented with these grotesque and disturbing images, you haven’t been desensitized, making these striking images much more effective. I can’t talk about this too much without spoiling some things, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this: Wrong Turn’s body horror is really good.
There are, however, two major pieces of criticism I have to lob at this movie. First, it’s not exactly subtle with its messaging. Wrong Turn is an opinionated movie, which is not a bad thing. But it has a tendency to deliver its views either through character monologues, which tend to be tedious, or in interactions between the young people and the locals that feel synthetic and scripted. On top of that, one of the film’s theses really rubs me the wrong way: it frames things like “Everyone working together as one body” as an evil thing to do. That a society where everyone works and has their basic needs met is barbaric and will send you back to the stone age. Maybe I’m projecting a bit on this one, but that’s how it comes across.
Finally, Wrong Turn is one of those movies that struggles to find an ending. There is a spot that would have been a great place to finish, but then it just… keeps on going. The final scene really acts as an epilogue to the rest of the film, which could absolutely work on paper. But this final scene introduces new thematic elements that had not been used at any other point in the film, breaking that great tonal consistency it had throughout. The film’s final ending isn’t an inherently bad one, but it is hindered by the journey to get there.
Ultimately, Wrong Turn is a solid horror film. I went into it not expecting to be impressed, and came away pleasantly surprised. It’s not ground-breaking or genre-defining like its influences (you can tell Wes Craven’s work was a major influence for this project), but if you’re already a horror fan, I’d say that Wrong Turn is worth viewing.
Wrong Turn (2021) is now available to watch on digital and on demand.