The WRONG TURN franchise is known for its gratuitous, and creative, kills, lots of sex, and the Hilliker brothers, a trio of inbred cannibals. With a total of six films released from 2003 to 2014, none of these films were masterpieces. Some of them were undoubtedly fun, but as the franchise moved into its final films, the quality plummeted and somehow made three cackling cannibals into boring side characters with nothing to do. So with the news of a WRONG TURN reboot in 2021, reactions were rightfully dubious. But, surprisingly, director Mike P. Nelson’s reimagining is an ambitious experience that captures the cruelty of the series with a unique twist.
Like any WRONG TURN film, Jen (Charlotte Vega), her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley), and their four friends decide to take a vacation to a small town and enjoy some hiking. They butt heads with the locals and receive the eerie warning to never stray off the hiking trail. But of course, they do wander off the beaten path and find themselves in grave danger.
Once a giant log rolls down a hill and crushes the head of Gary (Vardaan Arora), the group is under non-stop attack, or so they think. While it seems they are being picked off by a nameless assailant, they soon learn that perhaps they are the monsters in this scenario. They stumble across The Foundation, a village constructed in the late 1800s dedicated to living off the land and avoiding the corruption of modern society. Led by Venable (Bill Sage), unsuspecting hikers fall victim to The Foundation’s traps, built to protect their identity. But who is the “villain” of the story becomes a slippery slope as both groups begin enacting violence on one another.
Importantly, Nelson makes the crucial decision to move away from the ableist and stereotypical representation of socioeconomic class seen in all six WRONG TURN films. He shifts from inbred hillbilly cannibals to a more complex concept of people living deep in the woods away from society. Yes, there are a few jokes about inbred rednecks upon the group’s initial arrival to the small town, but the script makes sure to refute such assumptions and create a horror story that doesn’t rely on insulting rural communities.
On the flip side, Nelson tries so hard to work against the franchise’s harmful stereotypes that it becomes painfully obvious. There is a growing desire to make a film’s “wokeness” exceedingly apparent in its story that there’s no consideration for how that can actually be a detriment rather than a positive attribute. Conversations about privileged hipsters and generational gaps transform from relevant to annoying as WRONG TURN (2021) spends too long on trying to prove its point.
There is a lot going on in WRONG TURN (2021). At almost two hours long, this feels like three different movies, with dramatic tonal shifts that give the viewer whiplash. First, there’s a dad searching for his daughter. Then there’s the standard young-adults-trapped-in-the-woods story. The story shifts one more time to a focus on the cult-like group, The Foundation. Often these three parts feel disparate, as if Nelson couldn’t decide what story he wanted to tell. And somehow, it’s still a blast, particularly during its first act. It is a relentless film that never stops with its DIY traps, facial mutilation, and a pit of prisoners with no eyes or tongues.
While it’s entertaining to see Nelson navigate interesting story arcs, he also never wants this film to end. Even when the credits role, Jen is still fighting for her life and doesn’t stop until the screen finally fades to black. WRONG TURN(2021) is Nelson’s swing for the fences and it is an admirable feat, especially with the franchise’s rocky reputation. Fans of the Hilliker brothers shouldn’t expect their nasty hijinks; instead, they’ll find an interpretation of WRONG TURN that takes those audience expectations and flips them on their head. Nelson makes a reboot of the franchise worthy of 2021 that while often heavy-handed, offers its fair share of violent surprises.
Tags: Adain Bradley, Alan McElroy, Bill Sage, Charlotte Vega, Daisy Head, Dylan McTee, Emma Dumont, Horror, Matthew Modine, Mike P. Nelson, Nick Junkersfeld, Saban Films, Stephen Lukach, The Woods, Tom Elkins