Synopsis: Despite warnings to stick to the Appalachian Trail, hikers stray off course and cross into land inhabited by a hidden community of mountain dwellers who use deadly means to protect their way of life.
Stars: Charlotte Vega, Matthew Modine, Emma Dumont, Bill Sage, Daisy Head, Adain Bradley, Tim DeZarn, Dylan McTee
Director: Mike P. Nelson
Running Length: 111 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Like them or not, you have to give a certain amount of credit to anyone attempting to reboot a popular film franchise for their sheer chutzpah. Going beyond the mere land of the sequel where you are tasked with continuing on the thread of characters and staying as true as you can to what has been established in previous installments, to reboot means to really start from scratch and that can be scarier than any madman in a mask chasing after a nubile teen with a knife. Now, you have the fate of the future essentially in your hands so you better know what you’re doing or else the fans will come to get you and let me tell you a truth universally known by many doomed directors hoping to kickstart their own bloodline using a beloved series: a loyal fan is a hard gnat to swat.
What’s always energizing to find is a situation like we have with this reboot of the 2003 minor hit Wrong Turn. While the original was a decently conceived and executed bloody cut ‘em up that did well enough to spawn five sequels (including one attempt at a reboot already) that went direct to video, it wasn’t exactly a classic destined for historical preservation. The intriguing bit of trivia here, and what should catch the attention of devotees to the Wrong Turn lineage, is that the story and screenplay come from Alan B. McElroy who wrote the initial film. How often does an individual responsible for the creation of a series that hasn’t been heard from in a while come back and willingly start again, jettisoning nearly everything that’s been built over the past two decades and offer a fresh idea?
Now, I can’t say for sure if McElroy (who also wrote Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, one of my favorite sequels in that franchise) had always planned this new Wrong Turn or if he hadn’t already worked out this plotline for another potential movie all together that just happened to be similar to his first hit. Whatever the case, I’m glad the folks that owned the rights to the title came knocking because McElroy has found a clever way to begin again without doing any harm to the memory of the six films already containing a whole world created from his spare plot elements. If anything, it allows both those films and this new take to co-exist independently from one another and I think fans of the original are going to find a lot has gone right for this new Wrong Turn.
Scott Shaw (Matthew Modine, Pacific Heights) has come to Wrenwood, Virginia for answers. Over six weeks ago, his daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega) and five of her friends came through the sleepy town on their way to the Appalachian Trail for an innocuous hike as part of a longer road trip. They haven’t been heard from since. The town police offer no help nor do they seem to be interested in upsetting the ‘look the other way vibe’ Scott keeps picking up from the locals. Only an otherwise tight-lipped owner of the tiny inn has an inkling of what might have happened to his daughter and her companions…and the prospects aren’t good. As the film flashes back six weeks, we’ll see how right she is.
Largely an easy-going sextet of travelers not out to stir up trouble, Charlotte, her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley), loud-mouth Adam (Dylan McTee), medical student Milla (Emma Dumont, Inherent Vice) and boyfriends Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela) just want to get out into nature and explore the beauty of the land. Looking for any final tips from the locals, their host at their lodging (who becomes an ally to Scott six weeks later) just advises them to “Stay on the trail.” Of course, once they get too far to turn back Darius tells them about an abandoned Civil War fort that’s not too far off the well-marked trail and like clockwork it isn’t long before they’ve ventured into a part of the forest that’s already well occupied.
Instead of the greasy backwoods hicks the doomed youngins met up with in the first film, Charlotte and the gang wander into something far more sophisticated and long-standing and that’s something that deftly sets this Wrong Turn apart from the others. Protecting their space and the privacy of their way of life is key and this “foundation” have the macabre traps to show they mean business. As the numbers of the hikers dwindle, director Mike P. Nelson and McElroy capably change the gears of the film several times into different levels of suspense, nearly all to good effect. There’s enough carnage to satisfy the gore hounds with some ingeniously nasty deaths and well-done make-up effects as well as a balanced amount of suspense leading up to these shocks. For the most part, the movie lets you get to know everyone before it finds a way to send them to their maker. While it clocks in at a lengthy 111 minutes (even the credits are worth sitting through for a bit), it doesn’t feel like it overstays its welcome or has the kind of filler that stretches out an already thin idea. More often than not, McElroy and Nelson find ways to keep us engaged.
The performances are also in line with the strength of this new direction. With Modine the only true mainstream vet in the mix, it’s left to the rising stars and a few seasoned character actors to carry the weight of plot and they do it admirably. Making for a confident lead that proves to be no damsel in distress, Vega has some interesting developments in the final act and an intriguing coda that I wanted to know more about. Long time journeyman actor Bill Sage (The Pale Door) heads up the band of terrorizers that dole out justice as they see fit, with death not always the answer even if the accused will wind up wishing that was their sentence. Then there’s Modine who never makes it seem like he’s slumming it in a C-grade horror film. Having worked with some of the top directors in Hollywood, he treats the role with consideration and that goes a long way in our taking everything as seriously as he is.
Far less problematic in the way it categorizes the people of Appalachia than all of its predecessors, I have a feeling this Wrong Turn will go over nicely with its intended audience. Will it win over any new fans? Possibly, and that’s thanks to a leveled measure of restraint in the usual over-the-top spewing of viscera and a stronger focus on the build-up of suspense. A new route has definitely been charted for the Wrong Turn franchise and I’d be on board for another trip should McElroy want to map it out for us.