Wrong Turn

To say I hated the original 2003 Wrong Turn would be an understatement. In my review, I wrote that “there are a lot of things wrong with this movie, and no things that are right,” and awarded it a half-star rating. The violence was detestable, the characters flat, the villains dull. My dislike was so intense that I never bothered to see any of the five sequels. For this reason, I approached the new reboot, also entitled Wrong Turn, with a sense of weariness. Director Mike P. Nelson and writer Alan McAvoy have reconceived the premise to surprisingly good effect. Nothing will change my mind about the original, but this movie pleasantly caught me off guard.

The story starts off with worried father Scott (Matthew Modine) arriving in a small town. He's looking for his daughter Jen, who went hiking on the Appalachian trail with friends and has not been heard from for six weeks. Then we jump back in time, showing what happened to Jen (Charlotte Vega). For starters, she and the others aren't greeted warmly in the Podunk town. The white Jen has a Black boyfriend, Darius (Adain Bradley), and multicultural friends – a fact the prejudiced locals don't care for. Once they get out into the woods, the gang discovers a series of deadly traps that brutally ensnare several of them.

That probably makes Wrong Turn sound like yet another lame Saw ripoff. The plot goes in a different direction, though. I won't give much away except to say that Jen and Darius become the prisoners of The Foundation, a clan that's been living on the mountain since the Civil War and is led by the commanding Venable (Bill Sage). Wrong Turn shows what happens when they try to integrate themselves into The Foundation in order to stay alive. Then Scott gets wind of the situation and stuff gets crazy from there.

The kills in Wrong Turn are undoubtedly gruesome. The picture easily earns its R rating. It isn't just a blood-and-gore show, however. Once Jen and Darius hook up with Venable and his group, the film starts to explore ideas related to racial unity, the divisions that have long haunted America, and the stark realities of trying to stay alive in a dangerous situation. Not much about the story is realistic, yet the unexpected directions in which it goes are always fundamentally interesting. Nelson and McAvoy attempt to deliver something far beyond the mindlessness of the original Wrong Turn, so even if this reboot doesn't hit the bullseye 100% of the time, watching it aim high provides an undeniable level of viewing satisfaction.

The movie is also darn creepy. Excellent production design brings The Foundation's world to life in a shudder-inducing manner. (Just wait until you see what's inside the area they call “the darkness.”) Meanwhile, Bill Sage creates an excellent antagonist. Venable isn't an immoral person, per se. He's deeply moral according to his own value system, and that makes him perpetually threatening. Here is a guy who will do whatever is necessary to procure the kind of “justice” his people need to thrive.

Vega and Modine are very good too, ensuring that the human element is not lost amid the horror. Wrong Turn absolutely bites off more than it can chew given all the ways it wants to tie its story into American history. Lots of plot elements could have been expanded on. Nevertheless, I'd rather have a horror movie that's too ambitious than one that's not ambitious enough. When the film got to its stunning, darkly stylish final shot – one I haven't been able to get out of my head for days -- I felt impressed by how the makers of Wrong Turn performed alchemy with the source material.

out of four

Wrong Turn is rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images and pervasive language. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.