I’m currently reading a book called “Sleazoid Express” by Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford. It’s a history of the infamous Times Square grindhouse cinemas of the 1960’s and 1970’s. These theaters – no longer in existence – specialized in exploitation movies that, in the authors’ words, “let their freak flags fly high.” In other words, they played the most lurid, shocking, and violent horror pictures you could find. There’s irony in the fact that I saw the movie Wrong Turn only one day after beginning the book. This is exactly the kind of film that would have once played those grindhouses. Of course, grindhouse audiences were known to become physically destructive if the movie didn’t deliver the goods. Were there still such cinemas today, I have no doubt that Wrong Turn would inspire those Times Square crowds to wreak havoc.
The “plot” is about as basic as you can get. Six young people are lost on the back roads of West Virginia, where they are hunted and terrorized by a family of inbred redneck hillbillies. (One has to wonder if this movie will play at even a single theater in West Virginia, and what the audience reaction will be if it does.) Two of the characters – the ones played by actors we’ve never seen before – are quickly killed. That leaves four to focus on. Chris (Desmond Harrington) is ostensibly a doctor, although that plot thread never goes anywhere. Emmanuelle Chriqui (On the Line) plays Carly, who is recently engaged to the jokester named Scott (Jeremy Sisto). Then there’s Jessie, played by Eliza Dushku, who does the same tough-chick act she did on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and in Bring It On and in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and in just about everything else she’s ever been in.
Most of Wrong Turn consists of one scenario repeated again and again. The group hides from the rednecks. Somebody accidentally does something that gives away their hiding position. The rednecks come and kill one of them. The remaining characters hide somewhere else. Their location is given away. One of them dies. Repeat ad nauseum. There’s no creativity or invention to the horror scenes, nor is there ever any motivation given for the hillbillies to kill. I guess we are simply supposed to believe that West Virginia is populated by deformed hillbillies who squeal and kill people for kicks.
There are a lot of things wrong with this movie, and no things that are right. The whole film is just uninspired. A movie about inbred redneck hillbillies should go in one of two directions: it should either be an exercise in cult-movie camp, or it should be a modern day version of Deliverance (whose title one character is foolish enough to invoke at a certain point). Regrettably, Wrong Turn is neither. There’s not an ounce of humor or self-awareness in the screenplay. Nor is the idea of murderous inbred redneck hillbillies played for realistic terror. Deliverance was one of the most disturbing movies ever made because it took its hillbillies seriously. There was something legitimately chilling about a group of backwoods rednecks who were amused by their own lack of morality. Wrong Turn uses inbreeding as a hook, yet never does anything with it. It feels as though someone grabbed an old screenplay for some unfilmed Friday the 13th sequel and simply replaced the hockey masked killer Jason Vorhees with an offensive West Virginia stereotype.
Besides, how can you be scared of inbred redneck hillbillies when director Rob Schmidt never even lets you get a good look at them? They’re always filmed from behind, or in shadow, or at a distance. There’s nothing scary about the hazards of massive hillbilly inbreeding if you can’t see what it looks like! Early on, Chris stops at a gas station for directions. He runs into an older West Virginia citizen who is caked in dirt, has one tooth, and swigs from a bottle of Pepto Bismol. That guy is scarier than any of the killers; at least we can see how repulsive he is. Since the film was produced by Hollywood make-up wizard Stan Winston, you might think he would actually want to show off his hillbilly creations instead of merely providing only the most subliminal of flashes. Apparently you would be wrong.
Of course, the problems with the hillbillies are nothing compared to the problems with the characters. None of the “normal” people in this movie have any personality whatsoever. They’re just a bunch of morons who make survival decisions as though they’ve never heard the word “logic.” Like the scene where they hide from the hillbillies in a watchtower, never pausing to think that once up, there’s no other way down. At some point, I realized that I was actually rooting for the inbred redneck hillbillies…they weren’t any fun either, but at least they seemed to be awake and alert.
I can’t figure out why anyone would want to be involved with the making of Wrong Turn. This is just about as bad a movie as I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been reviewing films. Apparently, even the studio (20th Century Fox) was embarrassed by the result; although they are releasing the film, their logo is conspicuously absent from the final print. This is clearly a movie made by people who just didn’t care. The actors didn’t care, the screenwriter didn’t care, the director and producers didn’t care, and the studio didn’t care. If they don’t care, why should we?
(1/2 out of four)
Note: The press material claims that Wrong Turn attempts to recapture the feel of low-budget 1970's horror movies. I refer the reader to Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses which is a much superior homage to the genre.
Wrong Turn is rated R for strong violence and gore, some language and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Return to The Aisle Seat