January 25, 2021 Wrong Turn (Movie Review)
In 2003 we were told not to go into the woods, and 18 years later we still haven’t learned. Here to place a new spin on a modern classic, the resurrected and completely reimagined Wrong Turn arrives in theaters on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 thanks to Saban Films.
Performing a reboot of the franchise with its seventh installment, 2021’s Wrong Turn is a stand-alone offering that in no way picks up where 2014’s Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort left off. Directed by Mike P. Nelson (Summer School 2006, The Domestics 2018), and featuring the return of screenwriter Alan B. McElroy (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers 1988, Wrong Turn 2003), fans might be shocked to find that McElroy has failed to revive recurrent villain Three Finger.
Instead, this new addition centers around a father (Matthew Modine: Full Metal Jacket 1987, 47 Meters Down 2017) and his daughter, Jen (Charlotte Vega: The Refugees series, The Lodgers 2017). Spending time with her friends, as well as boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley: Riverdale series, The Bold and the Beautiful series), while avoiding difficult decisions about her future, Jen is hiking the Appalachian Trail. Despite warnings to remain on the trail, the group—which also consists of Adam (Dylan McTee: Midnighters 2017, The Wind 2018) and his girlfriend Milla (Emma Dumont: Aquarius series, The Gifted series), along with Gary (Vardaan Arora: Gypsy series, Blindspot series) and his love Luis (Adrian Favela: Spider-Man: Homecoming 2017, Requisecat short 2018)—has done just this in hopes of encountering an old Civil War fort.
What they actually encounter is a hidden community that has called these mountains home since the 1800s. Intent upon protecting their way of life, The Foundation—led by John Venable (Bill Sage: American Psycho 2000, The Pale Door 2020) and his daughter, Edith (Daisy Head: Underworld: Blood Wars 2016, Fallen 2016)—will not shy away from the use of deadly force. Finding themselves suddenly under siege, can Jen and her friends survive long enough for outside help to arrive?
There’s a lot of story packed into these 109 minutes, and there’s little correlation to the 2003 flick that started it all. Which has its merits: those not familiar with the franchise can easily dip into the 2021 film, as zero prior knowledge is required. This is helpful, considering Wrong Turn moves at a fairly fast pace, tossing a lot at its viewers in its compact runtime. It all kicks off with immediate tension and some uncomfortable moments in a small town in Virginia, setting the mood for a film that, like all great Horror, sets out to unnerve its viewers while teaching them a lesson or two.
And it certainly doesn’t shy away from gore. Wrong Turn toes a careful line between the torture porn that some will expect and an actual story line that offers lessons that we are still learning in our society. Okay, yes, there’s a second or two of cannibalism, but it’s far from the focus in McElroy’s script. Instead, the vibe is heavily influenced by classic gore-fests like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), but there’s an effort to keep that precarious balance that can doom so many filmmakers: swinging between enough cruel tricks to horrify non-Horror aficionados but not scare them off, all while providing plenty of surprises to thrill the die-hards. Let’s just say you won’t go logging any time soon!
And while most moviegoers don’t attend a flick such a Wrong Turn to be offered insight into cultural faux pas and ethnocentrism, they are going to get commentary with this viewing. From the local yokels still fighting the Civil War in a small town to The Foundation itself, McElroy has carefully embedded comments on our egoism, the dangers of ‘judging a book by its cover’, and, of course, millennials.
Fortunately, Wrong Turn comes packaged with a strong final girl in the form of Vega’s Jen. She goes to great lengths to practice empathy, to save herself and her friends from an impossible situation, and she even does what most men insist a woman cannot—change a flat tire. This is paired with an effort to spice things up and make the characters more representative, with a biracial couple, a gay couple, and a fiercely intelligent female dating an obvious mimbo. Unfortunately, this also leaves the bulk of these characters to be little more than tropes: McTee’s Adam being the loud-mouthed, insensitive male bimbo, Dumont’s Milla being the Velma, and poor Arora and Favela’s Gary and Luis being little more than a loving gay couple who are easy cannon fodder.
Bradley’s Darius is developed only slightly more than this, leaving Vega’s Jen as the clear and obvious spotlight. The talented actress does a good job with the material she’s given, growing more powerfully poised and coming into her own as the story develops and her character finds purpose. This in the face of encountering Sage’s John, who is equal parts alluring and repulsive thanks to a phenomenal performance from the exceptional actor. And definitely not least, the precious Rhyan Elizabeth Hanavan (Donnybrook 2018) does a wonderful job as the haunting Ruthie, a pivotal figure who never speaks a word.
Together, the cast manages to perfectly harness the paranoia, fear and chaos of being lost in the woods. With their adrenaline transferring to the audience, they keep the thrills coming at a steady pace as McElroy explores everything from xenophobia and morality to ethnocentrism and idealism. In some ways, that makes the case for parallels between Wrong Turn and Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (2013), but this is not that story. Barbaric in its visuals but carefully crafted to open your mind, Wrong Turn is a successful reinvigoration of the franchise and a reason to get your buns to a theater. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Wrong Turn 4 of 5 stars. Stay through the end credits!