Believe it or not, not including this reboot, there are six entries in the Wrong Turn series of films. Predictably, aside from its initial 2003 original, every film in the series was a casualty of the late-2000s boom of direct-to-DVD sequels, each one increasingly declining in quality. What do you do when your series has been run into the ground? Reboot that shit. It’s easy to look at a reboot of Wrong Turn and immediately roll your eyes. What about mutant cannibals in the woods of Appalachia hasn’t already been covered at least six times before? What can this really offer me if not for another vehicle for more crappy sequels? However, returning to the series is original screenwriter Alan B. McElroy, who has not penned a film in the series since the original, thus rebooting his own material.
And while I can’t say that Wrong Turn originalists will be particularly happy, I can gladly say that the 2021 reboot of Wrong Turn is way more my speed of a horror film. In fact, I’d go so far to say that it’s quite well done.
Scott Shaw (Matthew Modine) is a father on a search for his missing daughter, Jennifer (Charlotte Vega), who disappeared while hiking the Appalachian trail six weeks prior with her boyfriend, Darius (Adain Bradley), and friends, Milla (Emma Dumont), Adam (Dylan McTee), Luis (Adrian Favela), and Gary (Vardaan Arora). Investigating a small mountain town, Scott learns from locals about the history of the area and the mysterious and sinister group of people living in isolation on the mountain. Meanwhile, in a parallel storyline, we follow Jennifer and her friends as we discover what horrors awaited them on the mountain.
If mutant cannibals is your thing, then this Wrong Turn simply isn’t for you. It’s a bit shocking that the series’ main staple is thrown to the wayside in lieu of a storyline akin more to Midsommar, but despite its inherent difference, it’s still a thrilling and absolutely gnarly horror film with more to say about colonialism than most films explicitly about colonialism have to say, and in a much more entertainingly gruesome way.
Not that it contributes to the film’s quality as a horror film in any way, but it’s very refreshing to see a horror film feature such a diverse cast both in terms of race and sexuality, without ever pushing it in a way that feels like it’s asking for brownie points for simply depicting the world as it is. And while my fight-or-flight was instantly triggered at the idea of two gay men of color facing terror in the woods of Appalachia, I’m happy to see that McElroy focused purely on the horror of it all, without having to have anyone be hate-crimed.
The cast is also diverse in that it shows that they characters are also incredibly stupid people. This is arguably the most frustrating element of this film, and it led me to actually yelling at my screen a few times in protest to the absolutely moronic things these characters did to dig themselves into actual holes of horror. I can’t say that it doesn’t give way to some nasty, scary results in the end, but there are ways to make characters both clever and susceptible to being absolutely wrecked by violent woodspeople.
Performances across the board are pretty solid for the cast assembled here, nothing groundbreaking, but they’re easily better than those in most horror films of its ilk, particularly in the more unknown main cast of victims. Modine, while woefully out of place in his storyline, provides a committed performance worthy of praise. However, it’s Bill Sage’s surprise turn as John Venable, the leader of the mountain folk our characters come across, that makes Wrong Turn as effective as it is. He is magnetic, frightening, but also strangely sympathetic, and, if I’m being honest, correct in his motivations for much of the film. These things are what make movie villains great, and his nuanced take on a horror villain is one I will remember.
Directed by Mike P. Nelson of The Domestics fame, and shot by Nick Junkersfeld, Wrong Turn is easily the most attractive the series has ever looked. Shot on Arri Alexa Mini’s, there’s a film-like quality to the movie that gives a gritty, classic feel to the image, but with the mobility and movement of a digitally shot film (and some shaky cam, too). Nelson also shows a fair bit of restraint in choosing what atrocities to show explicitly on camera and what not to. Perhaps this might’ve been due to budgetary constraints, but it makes the moments it does show all the more jarring and wince-inducing.
At 110 minutes, Wrong Turn is a pretty long horror film, and one that could easily shave a good 15-20 minutes off the runtime without it feeling like it would suffer too much. In fact, the entire storyline with Modine’s character, while consequential in the film’s final act, could’ve honestly been cut and rewritten for a leaner, simpler horror film. But I can at least understand that if given the chance to have Matthew Modine in your film, you better take the chance to have Matthew Modine in your film.
It’s honestly difficult to compare this Wrong Turn to any other film in the series bearing the Wrong Turn moniker. This is an inherently different film once things really get going, and it’s shockingly one that is both effective in its horror and smart in its written subtext beyond the surface level of gore and horror (even if the characters themselves are anything but smart). It could use a trim and a quick re-edit, but even without any of that, this new direction for the Wrong Turn series is one that both reinvents the formula and establishes its continued relevance in 2021. It might please those looking for a traditional Wrong Turn experience, but for myself, it’s perhaps the best this series has ever been.
In select theaters January 26th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital February 23rd, 2021.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.