★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Mike P. Nelson
Once a film franchise crosses over in to four, five, or six sequels, or god forbid a complete reboot, it deserves lampooning and a heaping dose of criticism. That many sequels is often a reflection of the imagination tank run completely dry. Take your original story/villain and wash, rinse, and repeat.
Over and over and over until you can’t possible fit any more cash in your money-grubbing savings account. This is almost always the same tired Hollyweird trope, but occasionally (read: almost never) the franchise does something inventive, unique, and rewarding.
The Wrong Turn franchise has rightfully been the subject of much ridicule and haranguing. There’s too many, they’re too much, and while each is it’s own little imaginative world, it’s a franchise that could have easily called it quits a long time ago.
All these things were rather true until 2021 when the Wrong Turn reboot aggressively moved all the pieces around the board and gave us a clean reimagining in the same vain as 2018’s masterpiece, Halloween.
For the uninitiated, the Wrong Turn series simply follows inbred cannibalistic hill people somewhere in the rural parts of the mid-Atlantic. Well-meaning teens take one turn too many and the hillbillies come out to snack.
This elegant, if not warmed over, plot device was fascinatingly reformed by Alan B. McElroy, the very same writer that gave us the original 2003 Wrong Turn. To take an idea that’s been so well worn and reconfigure it with a new and more socially conscious vision is nothing short of brilliant.
Wrong Turn begins in rural Virginia near the Appalachia Trail, with Scott (played by silver fox Matthew Modine) frantically looking for his daughter. As he canvases all the local haunts a broken down townie curtly tells him “…nature eats everything it touches. Right down to the bone. Doesn’t give a shit if it’s a cute girl.” Scott is undeterred as is his daughter, Jen (Charlotte Vega).
As Scott’s search begins, we’re taken back six weeks where Jen, her boyfriend, and two couples manage to rankle the the locals like only privileged millennials can. The perfectly normal and not-too-pretty gang sets out for some day hikes along the famously ponderous and meandering Appalachia Trail. They’re warned to stay on the trail, but they foolishly go in search of that perfect snap on Insta.
As they wander from the well-trod confines of the trail Jen and her friends are immediately treated to a very different flavor of hill people. Alan McElroy opts for less Hills Have Eyes radioactive weirdos and more Deliverance with a taste of occult folk terror.
McElroy creates a fascinating back story involving pre-Civil War utopian idealists convinced that the north and south were headed for mutual apocalypse. Twelve families retreat to the woods to create the Foundation. A new framework for the assured collapse of society. The north eventually moves on and the south, well, the south sort of moves on — but the Foundation never moves on. Stuck in the 1800s with a layer of the occult and some possibly Scandinavian magick, the Foundation does not take kindly to strangers.
Jen and her crew eventually run afoul of the Foundation, but McElroy constructs a story where Jen, her Dad Scott, the locals, and the Foundation all contain quizzical elements of good and bad. While there’s definitely villainous intent on the part of the Foundation, many of their actions are at the very least warranted.
Only two elements of the film gave me pause. One was the length. Coming in at nearly two hours it felt like a big chunk of Jen’s time with the Foundation could have been whittled down. The other was the costuming. Many of the cultish costumes the Foundation wore were prominently adorned with Moose and Big Horn Sheep antlers and horns. Problem is neither of those critters are in that part of the world, nor have they ever been. Maybe the Foundation traded with outsiders for these goods, but their isolationist ways don’t seem to jibe with that line of cooperation.
Those small and nagging things aside, Wrong Turn is exceptional. The locations, the acting, the soundtrack, the writing, and, most importantly, the reimagining all hit the bullseye. Wrong Turn also treats the audience to quite a few endings. Some are real and some are false, but be sure to hang on for the credits when the film — still rolling — takes a wild wrong turn.
Say what you will about the Wrong Turn franchise, but you’ll never hear this horror podcaster bad-mouth it ever again!
Wrong Turn is Rated R and streaming everywhere.