‘Wrong Turn’ Review: New Direction, Uneven Road
By Daniel Rester
The original 2003 Wrong Turn is a straightforward backwoods slasher/cannibal flick that rips off horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). It’s nothing amazing but does provide some goofy and gory fun for horror fanatics. Its success led to a series of direct-to-video sequels. Now the seventh film arrives and is being labeled as a reboot of the series. It’s lazily called Wrong Turn.
The 2021 Wrong Turn feels like it’s slapped with its title and “reboot” status as a means to bring in fans of the series in order to make some green. In reality, the film has next to nothing to do with the series and should have been called something else. Other than the writer being Alan B. McElroy (writer of the first film) and the setting being Appalachia, this is an entirely different beast.
This Wrong Turn follows Jen (Charlotte Vega), her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley), and their friends as they set out on a hiking trip. Things go wrong quickly as they come across people who live and hunt near the trail. Weeks later, Jen’s father Scott (Matthew Modine) goes searching for his missing daughter.
On the surface, that sounds like a Wrong Turn film. I’m purposely being vague though because McElroy and director Mike P. Nelson take the story in weird and surprising directions. I will say the antagonists, called “The Foundation,” are cult-like while the film starts with slasher characteristics (traps in the woods, people being taken, etc.) before becoming something more akin to folk horror like The Wicker Man (1973).
While it may not function like a Wrong Turn film, Nelson’s movie occasionally works on its own terms and is actually better than any of the Wrong Turn sequels; I still prefer the original film over it though if we’re comparing. The cinematography here is expertly done while Nelson stages the action cleanly and effectively, with a few shocking gore moments thrown in too. Vega and Modine also turn in committed performances, while Dylan McTee shines in some scenes as well as Adam. He’s a smart but angry and xenophobic friend in Jen’s group.
Speaking of xenophobia, Wrong Turn actually has that topic and other ideas on its mind. McElroy’s script deals with clashes and misconceptions between two differing groups, from legal perspectives to societal norms. The film purposely tries to keep things in a grey area so we are questioning whether Jen and her friends are in the wrong or if the “Foundation” is.
I admire McElroy and Nelson for bringing some thought-provoking themes and situations to the table, but they are also the start of Wrong Turn’s problems. After a riveting courtroom-like scene, the film doesn’t seem to know what else to do with its morality discussions. Ultimately the main conflicts end up feeling half-baked, the narrative muddled, and the atmosphere pretentious. It’s easy to admire the filmmakers’ aims but hard to love their results.
The bigger issue is Jen’s arc. She is a completely different character at the beginning of the film than she is at the end, which is great in theory. But in execution her decision-making and change of personality aren’t buyable. Just when more dramatic meat should be added to her as she interacts with the “Foundation,” the film instead shifts focus to Scott’s adventure to find her. Once we end up back with Jen, it feels like a lot of important details were sidestepped.
Wrong Turn 2021 is only partially a slasher and features none of the series’ inbred hillbilly antagonists. The Wrong Turn series isn’t great, but there are fans, and those fans may be pissed at how the supposed reboot has been delivered. Others may be more welcoming with the new directions. Expectations aside, Nelson’s film as its own thing does bite off more than it can chew as it tries to subvert expectations and deliver timely messages. I admire the effort but the end result is highly uneven.
My Grade: 5.8/10 (letter grade equivalent: C+)
Running Time: 1h 49min