In 2003, when the slasher subsect of the horror genre had once again died down following the late 90’s trend of Scream-inspired chillers and the remake game was starting to strengthen, writer Alan B. McElory (Spawn) and director Rob Schmidt (Crime and Punishment in Suburbia) adopted the cannibalistic, backwoods-set mentality that ran so rampant in the 1970’s and 80’s and gave it a slight aughts twist.
It was the simples of set-ups – aesthetically pleasing tourists fall victim to a clan of inbred cannibals – and whilst the original Wrong Turn didn’t exactly set the record books alight, it turned enough of a profit and garnered enough of a cult following for it to earn repeated interest over the course of 11 years, with a 6-film franchise being born from one moderately successful venture. Nearly 20 years on from his original creation, McElroy has twisted his own narrative, rebooting himself with a film connected in name only, taking his new generational victims on a wildly alternative path than what many will be expecting from a series that was so synonymous with a tried and true premise.
When this new Wrong Turn opens we’re already aware that something tragic has potentially taken place. The worried Scott (Matthew Modine) is investigating the Appalachian Trail, concerned that the 6-week absence of his daughter is related to her travels, and the hostility he is met with by the locals only adds to his worry and confusion. When we cut to the 6 weeks prior and we meet said daughter, Jen (Charlotte Vega), she’s the picture of excitement, happily travelling with her boyfriend (Adain Bradley), and a duo of couples who all easily fill the quotas related to sexuality, race, and opinions, i.e. gay, ethnic, and feminist.
They’re not exactly met with the utmost kindness either when wandering about town, and when Jen and co. hit the trail we’re unsurprised when they ignore all the local warnings of sticking strictly to the official pathway and investigate the road less travelled, encountering a reclusive civilisation on the way that prove just as violent-minded as the original film’s cannibals. When one of the group is easily disposed of during a rogue log accident – the aftermath of this particular sequence is impressively gruesome – the remaining survivors naturally panic, and it’s from here on that Wrong Turn starts to shift its seemingly familiar mentality towards a narrative wildly removed from anything the original suggested.
Whilst the opening involving Scott’s panic already puts in motion that the fate of certain characters are in jeopardy – not that we should be surprised at this – the tonal shift that takes place at roughly Wrong Turn‘s hour mark is so massively drastic that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve just watched two entirely separate films. The tease that this ’21 overhaul will lean into the temperament of the original is well and truly severed once the group meet “The Foundation”, a reclusive cluster who have lived away from civilisation for decades, surviving off the ways of the natural land but, as we learn, protecting themselves at all cost. The subversion that McElroy implements regarding The Foundation’s reasoning for their brutal acts is one that dares the audience to question just who is the predator and who is the prey, and once Jen and the remaining survivors are ushered through their community space, the initial simplistic nature of what Wrong Turn could’ve been is very much swapped in favour of a narrative that aims to be more than what is expected.
Given that the cohesion of the film is threatened due to such a tonal shift, director Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) can only do so much to make it flow as organically as possible. The admittedly interesting back-end story feels worthy of its own dedicated film but the world-building this attempts is never given the correct amount of breathing space to do so. It absolutely earns points for taking such a wildly different approach though, and Bill Sage’s Venable (also known as the more Foundation-approved moniker of Ramskull) is a truly terrifying creation that constantly elevates the film’s horrific nature, which ultimately assists Wrong Turn in at least standing out on its own accord, whether fans are receptive or not.
Hardly a reboot or a reimagining, this is its own creation that merely shares a similar setting to its distant inspiration, with this film’s at-times violent DNA entirely forming by itself. If the nostalgic feeling of inbred cannibals offing their prey with gory precision is one you hope to experience, Wrong Turn ’21 is not the appropriate destination. If you want a change in your genre appetite though, and think medieval-leaning horror – however successful its attempt may be – sounds like a worthy venture, getting lost in these particular woods may not be the worst outcome after all.
Wrong Turn is screening in select Australian cinemas from January 28th, 2021.