In 2003, writer Alan B. McElroy and director Rob Schmidt introduced an early aughts backwoods slasher that launched a six-film franchise. The setup was simple; a group of unwitting tourists or passersby fall prey to a clan of inbred cannibals. Nearly twenty years later, McElroy returns to the series he created to retool and reboot, giving Wrong Turn a wildly divergent road to follow. This new update shares commonality with the franchise in name only, opting instead to create a tonally-confused road trip into the unpredictably bizarre.
The new Wrong Turn opens with Scott (Matthew Modine) traversing rural Appalachian towns searching for his missing daughter. He’s met with hostility and foreboding warnings. Cut to six weeks before, where daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega) sets out with her boyfriend and friends to trek the Appalachian Trail. They encounter the same locals and receive similar warnings to strictly adhere to the official path. Naturally, the pals convince Jen to immediately ignore all cautions to head off the beaten path, where they run afoul of “The Foundation,” a reclusive community who have lived apart from civilization for centuries.
A time skip post-opening deflates a lot of tension straightaway, giving a strong indication of character fates before the story even begins. Nothing about this Wrong Turn is normal. It begins normal enough; the unwitting group does run afoul of a lethal bunch after making a wrong turn deep in the woods. But it quickly becomes apparent that McElroy is attempting a complete subversion of his original script, though it’s not nearly as timely as it thinks.
Between Scott’s search for her and her reticence to break the rules, it’s clear Jen is our central heroine from the outset. We never really get to know her, or any of the characters, for that matter, beyond stock archetypes or tokenisms. The narrative favors telling over showing at every level, including the kills- many of which happen off-screen and only cut to grisly aftermath. There’s no rooting interest, making it that much harder to swallow the implausible and wacky character arcs that unfurl.
The deeper into the Appalachians Jen gets, the more left-turns and narrative curveballs get thrown our way. A straightforward slasher turns into a completely different movie altogether. Director Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) tries his best to tie it all together into a cohesive film. The filmmaker attempts to imbue an epic quality to the bonkers journey. But there’s too much going on in the story and too little substance to its worldbuilding. The latter half presents a far more interesting movie, but none of it is given enough room to breathe or the details to make it wholly work. Many of the ideas are fascinating but far too thinly sketched. The social commentary doesn’t stick its landing and proves unnecessary.
Calling Wrong Turn a reboot, remake or reimagining feels almost inaccurate. Outside of its title and backwoods setting, there’s next to no connective tissue tying it to the original. Laudable attempts to subvert a conventional slasher succumb to overambition and stock story elements. Inbred cannibals are dropped in favor of something more akin to a dark ages fantasy with an edge. None of it hits as hard as intended because there’s so little for audiences to grab ahold of in terms of emotional investment. Still, some intended and unintended entertainment is found in a feature that takes such giant leaps in genre and storytelling. Even if you’re a bit baffled by the time the end credits roll.
Wrong Turn is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on January 22, 2021.