Friday, 26 February 2021

WRONG TURN (2021) review

When his daughter and her friends go missing while hiking along the Appalachian trail, Scott (Matthew Modine) arrives in the local town to find a guide who'll help him find them. Fighting for survival against The Foundation, a society of survivalists that live in the woods and uses rudimentary but effective booby traps to catch their prey, Scott's daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega) does whatever she can to keep herself and her friends alive.

Written by Alan McElroy, the writer of the original 2003 Eliza Dushku starring original, if you think you know what to expect from a Wrong Turn movie, this latest installment/reboot may surprise you. Ostensibly an excuse for producer Stan Winston to showcase some of the effects work coming out of his studio, the original traded heavily on hicksploitation tropes - the bad guys being grotesquely deformed, inbred cannibals murderising the sexy, young, and oh-so-very white cast. Subtle it wasn't, but it was successful enough to warrant five direct-to-video sequels and prequels in the decade that followed. I'll be honest that I've not seen any of the sequels, but did see the original in the cinema and even recently treated myself with a belated rewatch that affirmed its status as a marginally effective, unoriginal but schlocky enough horror.

And so it's fair to say that I approached this reboot with about as much trepidation you can have before you simply just don't want to watch something, but strong word of mouth coerced me into giving it a go. And I'm glad I did, as it's a very different beast to the original franchise run. Very different. Gone is the reliance on facial abnormalities and a sweaty, Texas Chain Saw Massacre-esque vibe for its antagonists, to be replaced by The Foundation, a deer skull masked cult that use the woods as their weapons against outside intruders. The fresh meat has had a makeover too, introducing BAME and queer characters into the ensemble, admirably without them seeming shoehorned in. There's still some ripe hicksploitation going on in the local township, with rent-a-redneck Tim deZarn (Mordecai in The Cabin in the Woods) trying to scare off the group of yuppies, and later warning Matthew Modine's concerned father Scott that "Out there, nature eats everything it catches... right down to the bone".

Wrong Turn 2021 is a film of two halves that you can almost split exactly down the middle of its (too long) 1 hour 50 runtime. The first half - where Jen, her history buff boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley) and the rest of her Instagram-friendly gang of hiking hipsters get lost in the woods when looking for an old Civil War fort - is the stronger half, keeping their rivals hidden amongst the trees and out of sight. The threat they offer is effectively spelled out early on with a great set-piece involving a felled tree rolling towards them at a pace, and the film ticks along nicely as the group is thinned out by some nasty looking booby traps. There's some jumping around in the timeline, but the second half - with its more formal introduction of The Foundation and their society, and the efforts of Modine's character to track them down - is a complete U-Turn that's not an altogether satisfying experience.

Without wanting to spoil the full extent of how The Foundation operates, it's entirely possible that writer McElroy found some inspiration for Venable (Bill Sage), the righteous leader of his unorthodox society, in a certain character played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan in a popular post-apocalyptic TV show. Charismatic with a salt and pepper beard and some twisted morals that almost make sense, there's some truly icky elements to this character and what he's willing to allow others to do that leave a bad taste in the mouth and make you wish they'd go back to squashing people with trees. There's certainly things to enjoy after the arrival of Venable, with some graphic special effects work and some delicious rug-pulling that subverts what we've seen so far whilst also wink-wink, nudge-nudge commenting on the downfall of America ("you tell me, whose world is barbaric?"), but without a doubt The Foundation are most effective when sparingly used out in the woods, skull mask adorned.

Such a change of approach this is, one might suggest that this was never intended to be a reboot/distant relative of the original Wrong Turn, but is instead a canny marketing move based on McElroy's involvement. I don't know the truth, and maybe it doesn't matter if the move is a success. Time will tell if this dramatic change of direction will give the rebooted franchise the longevity of the original run, but it's a safe enough guess that fans of the first series of films, as surprised as they might be, will find plenty to enjoy about this effectively gruey reboot.

Verdict

3/5

Signature Entertainment presents Wrong Turn (2021) UK Home Premiere on Digital Platforms 26th February and Blu-Ray & DVD 3rd March

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