WRONG TURN (2021) was marketed as a remake of WRONG TURN (2003), but is I think either a bonafide reboot (starting over from the beginning) or un-subtitled sequel (after they dropped the original title, WRONG TURN: THE FOUNDATION). If you consider the premise of the six previous WRONG TURN movies to be “travelers are hunted by a family of deformed cannibals,” then this is not a remake. It’s more like a re-asking of the question “what if some young people got attacked in some woods in West Virginia?” that gets a different answer.
I like the structure of it. It begins with grey-haired real estate agent Scott Shaw (Matthew Modine, TRANSPORTER 2) out of his element driving through Appalachia in search of his missing daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega, AMERICAN ASSASSIN). He finds an inn that she and her friends stayed at, and only knows they meant to hike an Appalachian trail. The police chief isn’t much help and also asks “Who’s the Black fella?” when he sees her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley, 2 episodes of Riverdale) in a photo. Locals at a bar basically tell Mr. Shaw to give up because if she got lost in those woods she’s surely dead. Rude. But he says he’s not gonna give up.
Then we jump back to six weeks earlier, when Jen and Darius drive into that town with their obnoxiously strident friend Adam (Dylan McTee, Roswell New Mexico), his medical student fiance Milla (Emma Dumont, INHERENT VICE), plus Luis (Adrian Favela, UNDER THE STADIUM LIGHTS) and his boyfriend Gary (Vardaan Arora, one episode of Blindspot). They get into a squabble with locals at the bar, then the lady (mountain mama?) running the inn (Amy Warner, CAROL) warns them not to wander off the trail, and goody-goody Jen intends to follow that advice, but Darius convinces her to go looking for a civil war fort he says is nearby. So I hope he feels like real garbage when a giant log rolls down the hill they’re on and poor Gary gets squooshed like a bug. Until the gruesome death this scene is pretty funny because every one of them trips and is all beaten to shit from bouncing down the hill well before the log catches up with them.
They have some shock, some grief and some arguing before agreeing they have to leave the body and find help. (Pretty smart for Adam to bring up Gary’s religious beliefs to make Luis feel more comfortable with that.) Then they get horribly lost. And Jen keeps thinking she sees someone. And all of their cell phones disappear. And Milla disappears. And Adam gets caught on a chain and pulled down into a hole. In the first sign that maybe she’s a flawed hero, Jen insists that they have to leave and not try to help him out of the hole. But then they see him again, tied to a rod, being carried by two guys wearing costumes made out of leaves and masks made out of animal skulls and antlers. You don’t see that every day.
Here’s where they finally take a stand. They find weapons and go face these guys down and demand they let their friend go. The guys respond in some unknown language. During the confusion, Adam gets loose and bashes one of the guys’ skull to mush while screaming that he killed Milla.
And as he finishes up, Milla walks up behind him all, Hey guys, what did I miss?
That’s some good dark, uncomfortable humor there, but I don’t really buy that Jen would immediately start yelling at Adam that he killed an innocent man, even if she was thinking it. As he points out, she saw them pull him into a hole with a chain and carry him around tied to a pole like the Ewoks did to Han Solo when they were gonna cook him for dinner. I mean, he escaped from them like 30 seconds ago! Come on, Jen, surely you remember this?
There’s some pretty cool stuff with more of these skull-masked people being camouflaged in the woods and scurrying around, though there’s a bunch of cumbersome cheating where characters don’t see them because they’re out of frame even though we can tell from the geography that they had to be standing in plain sight.
There’s a big reveal (BIG REVEAL SPOILER) that’s both what’s kind of cool about this movie and what’s kind of not cool about this movie. They get snatched and find themselves in a weird underground place where the woodsmen put them on trial. They turn out to be an ancient society/cult called The Foundation who have lived in isolation here since shortly before the civil war. They put Adam on trial for murder and what’s pretty funny about it is that apparently it really was a silly misunderstanding – those guys found him knocked out by their trap and were taking him to get help. Whoops!
But what’s uncool about it is that these are just some weirdly accented cultists who like nature, not the mutant cannibals that this series was previously about. Couldn’t they have combined the two ideas? Well, they didn’t. And even accepting that there won’t be mutant cannibals, now that we’ve seen them unmasked we’ve lost the mystery and the scary costumes. Now they’re just scary Mennonites. On the positive side, their leader is played by Bill Sage, a great villainous actor I know from WE ARE WHAT WE ARE and FENDER BENDER. But you get this far into a monster movie/cannibal series and then you decide it would be better without monster cannibals? Well, you are wrong.
This series really took a wrong turn there, am I right?
Late in the movie we see a dark cave where mutilated victims of the cult are living. At least one appears to be deformed and one is eating meat of unspecified origin. I took this as an implication that although obviously there was some kind of mistake and the villains of WRONG TURN were left out of this one, maybe Three Finger and those guys were people who escaped from this cave, and the Foundation is a bigger-picture look at their world that nobody asked for. However, there’s a joke later where Jen’s stepbrothers picked “something about… inbred cannibals” for pizza-and-a-movie-night, which definitely comes across as a “ha ha, this isn’t one of those silly movies about inbred cannibals” joke, so maybe I was reading too much into that other part.
Another element of the original that is not represented here: Eliza Dushku as the heroine was a tough girl in a tank top (Jordan Crucchiola of the Aughtsterion podcast calls that era “tank top horror”). Here we have a bunch of skinny people who don’t seem to stand a chance. But I guess they’re going up against pretty regular people in cumbersome costumes, not highly skilled body slicers, so maybe there’s some balance there.
After the group have been sentenced, we skip ahead to Jen’s dad Scott back at home, not yet too worried, but having trouble getting ahold of her. It’s kind of cool because we saw her call him earlier and he says he hasn’t heard from her in two weeks, so we have a timeline here – this is 2 weeks after they got lost, but a month before he finds the town. When he does he’s an underdog hero because he’s kind of a dork, wearing real-estate-agent-going-for-a-weekend-hike type gear instead of what the locals would use. The country roads have not taken him to the place he belongs. But again, he’s not gonna give up. He pays five thousand in cash for two locals to guide him and they are almost immediately both killed by one booby trap. He takes a second to say “What the fuck!?” and then just takes their equipment.
By the time he gets there (SPOILER FOR WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HE GETS THERE) Jen is living as the leader’s wife and they all seem to be converted to the Foundation. But later Scott and Jen try to escape together. You don’t get father-daughter horror teams too often, so that’s pretty cool.
What’s weird about watching WRONG TURN (2021) a year and change after the fact is that it seems to me so much like the movie people who hated TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2022) describe that as. We have this very intentionally diverse group of city hipsters raising eyebrows in a conservative, rural area and delivering tons of awkward expositional dialogue explaining their backgrounds, jobs and liberal views, namedropping Reddit, etc. And we have very unwelcoming redneck locals with Confederate flags hanging around who turn out to be nicer and more helpful than assumed, at times seeming like a “Can’t we all get along?” both-sides false-equivalence type of message.
But for me it doesn’t work nearly as well. I think the reason is primarily tonal: it seems much more serious and much less aware about all this. It’s one of those movies where there’s more screen time spent with the characters freaking out and yelling at each other about what they should do than on actually being terrorized. The characters are less likable but that doesn’t mean it’s more fun to watch them bite it because the tone is still not as fun. I didn’t like seeing these people get impaled and shit but I was rooting more for the ones from CHAINSAW.
Many saw TCM as having heavy-handed political messages (though they disagreed on what those were) or being politically incoherent. I believe it’s messing with us by setting us up to think it’s telling us one thing and then trying to veer off in directions we don’t expect. To me WRONG TURN does not seem intentional – I think it fumbles the politics. It repeatedly raises the specter of the Confederacy (showing the flag, accusing the locals of being racist, searching for the fort) while creating tension between the presumably-backwards locals and the inter-racial and same sex couples… but then the villains turn out to be a secret civilization who already practiced racial equality during the time of slavery? Part of the gimmick is that their philosophy of everyone working and benefiting equally exactly matches what sustainability-non-profit-founder Darius randomly told Jen was his vision for the world when they were in bed at the inn, so much so that he decides to join them. Which is fine, but it definitely spends about half a movie acting like it’s saying something about our current divided political climate and then turns into something that seems to me thematically unrelated.
Though alot of this doesn’t work for me, the last ten or fifteen minutes are a real roller coaster that managed to keep me guessing and then end things on an exclamation point, leaving me feeling much more positive about the movie overall than I had been. And it doesn’t even necessarily feel like it’s trying to set up the next sequel. It’s just letting ‘er rip. That made me forgive some of what came before.
Also, admittedly, none of the previous WRONG TURNs lived up to what I wanted them to be either. So maybe I’m out of my element on this one. I give it a dispassionate half thumbs up and look forward to hearing other opinions.
This is the second film from director Mike P. Nelson. His other one is THE DOMESTICS, which I have looked at curiously but not rented. The writer is Alan B. McElroy (HALLOWEEN 4, RAPID FIRE, SPAWN, BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER, THE MARINE), who also did the original, and reportedly he was the one who wanted to do something different with this one.