The Wrong Turn slasher franchise — which, if you weren’t aware, runs six films deep — has been revamped with a new story, and new central antagonists, in an attempt to make a soft left turn away from its bread and butter of “inbred cannibals.” As a franchise reboot, Wrong Turn, from director Mike P. Nelson and original Wrong Turn scribe Alan McElroy, is a touch overlong and filled with muddled messaging, but it strikes a creepy, unnerving tone and lands with enough confidence to stake a solid claim in the horror landscape.Wrong Turn isn’t excessively gory, but it is effectively gory. It’s a curious attempt at a remake/remodel since it’s not a straight reboot at all and contains none of the original movie’s characters or plot (other than young adults getting lost and slaughtered in the woods). In fact, since it deals with a wholly different set of villains, it needn’t have been slotted into the Wrong Turn oeuvre at all. But, all in all, it’s a crafty and crazed endeavor that, at times, nicely plays around with some of our current “Red vs Blue” anxieties – only to then veer off into its own maddening, and somewhat haughty, themes.
Kicking things off in medias res, we see a father, Scott (a nice avenging dad role for Matthew Modine) searching for his daughter in a small Appalachia-adjacent town where the citizens are giving him the constant side-eye. Flashing back six weeks earlier, we follow his girl, Jen (Charlotte Vega), as she, her boyfriend (Adain Bradley), and friends (including The Gifted’s Emma Dumont) road trip through Virginia. It’s here that the film teases us a bit, making us think that the central conflict will arise from the locals being prejudiced pricks and Jen’s friends acting like entitled snobs. The danger, it turns out, is way more bats*** than that, though still owing itself to a Civil War-style divide (sort of).Enter The Foundation: A nineteenth-century cult that lives in the mountains and has existed, poverty and disease-free, since the 1850s. By all accounts, a better sect to deal with than rampaging cannibals, though they have a lethally strict way of dealing with outsiders. Borrowing a few pieces from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, in the sense that a group of families once decided to reject the modern world and live a simple (but also brutal) life amongst the trees, Wrong Turn gets a little murky in the middle parts when it tries to show us the “good” side of The Foundation. When it tries to ask us “which are the real monsters, the people who work in the soil or those who take selfies all day?”
There are moments, as Jen and those remaining from her group come face to face with The Foundation and their leader (Bill Sage) when the city slickers are put on trial for their crimes in a manner that’s supposed to make us look back at everything as one big misunderstanding based on the kids’ own biases. And it’ll make you want to scream a bit because the hill folks, as supposedly enlightened and unencumbered as they are, are clearly the aggressors and instigators. And liars, for all their attempts at upstanding citizenry. That being said, it’s still a more interesting backdrop for a horror flick than the usual kinds of bogeymen that stalk the woods.Thankfully, The Foundation’s more malignant and malicious side shows up in the final act, during an attempted heroic exodus from the camp, and then afterward in the fairly fun closing final moments (make sure you watch through the credits too). It’s here, within the curtain call, that Wrong Turn becomes a more satisfying journey that nicely rewards you for enduring some of the lingering elements of “torture porn” previously on display.
Though Wrong Turn could be trimmed down at parts, and thematically streamlined at times, Vega gives an excellent performance as Jen, a character forced to make some truly heinous choices, while Modine makes the most of his action-y paternal part. Bill Sage too, who’s been in a ton of things, provides a calm-yet-menacing presence as a cult leader capable of believing in ancient ways, both awesome and awful. The Foundation doesn’t seem like the types of adversaries that become full franchise foes, but they still provided a nice shot in the arm for this particular string of scary movies.
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