I have a fondness for the “Wrong Turn” franchise. A lot of this probably stems from having bailed on it after the second installment. (Sorry, folks, I missed entries three through six.)
Director Rob Schmidt’s Stan Winston-produced original is an entertaining-enough combination of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “The Hills Have Eyes” that I’ve wiled away more than one afternoon watching on Cinemax. I dig Joe Lynch’s sequel “Wrong Turn 2: Dead End” what with former “American Idol” contestant Kimberly Caldwell (playing herself) having her lips bitten off before being split in half with an axe in the opening scene (That’ll get your attention!) and Henry Rollins co-starring as a badass/smartass U.S. Marine-tuned- reality show host.
This brings us to “Wrong Turn” (2021), which played briefly in theaters last month as a Fathom Event before being released on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, Feb. 23. (It’s also returning to Goodrich Quality Theaters locations in Brownsburg and Lafayette, Ind. beginning Friday, Feb. 26.) This “Wrong Turn” isn’t so much a remake or a sequel as it is a reboot or a reimagining. Whereas Schmidt’s flick drew inspiration from seminal works by Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, director Mike P. Nelson and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy (who also penned the 2003 original) owe a debt to John Boorman’s “Deliverance” and Ari Aster’s “Midsommar.” Gone are the cannibal mutant hillbillies – they’re replaced with red herrings and antagonists that feel much more pertinent to the last four years we’ve endured.
A group of six friends comprised of three couples – Jen (Charlotte Vega) and Darius (Adain Bradley), Milla (Emma Dumont) and Adam (Dylan McTee) and Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela) – leave the big city to take a rural vacation hiking the Appalachian Trail. The locals embodied by Nate Roades (Tim DeZarn, who played similar parts in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” and “The Cabin in the Woods”) don’t take kindly to the group as they contain couplings both interracial and gay and they’re all damned dirty hipsters in their eyes. It doesn’t help that Adam audibly judges and antagonizes the townies.
The local yokels are the least of these youths’ problems when they veer off the main trail for further exploration despite warnings from Aileen (Amy Warner), the proprietor of the bed and breakfast where they’re lodging. The sextet runs afoul of The Foundation, a sect that’s decided to live separately from society since America’s inception. The Foundation operates by its own rules and is led by Venable (Bill Sage, a natural for the role after having appeared in Jim Mickle’s “We Are What We Are”). Once the youngsters have been missing for six weeks, Jen’s Dad Scott (full-on silver fox Matthew Modine) takes it upon himself to investigate their disappearance with Aileen and her kinfolk’s assistance.
While it’s sorta draggy and entirely too long at almost two hours, I found a lot to enjoy in “Wrong Turn.” Vega and Modine admirably give audiences characters to care about and the picture itself some emotional heft. I dug the politicization employed by Nelson and McElroy – this movie actually has something to say, which separates it from so much horror schlock. The kids aren’t entirely innocent and their captors aren’t entirely guilty, though the punishments they enact are undeniably brutish. There’s gray area and gray matter (so many heads get gooily caved in) aplenty. I was impressed enough by Nelson’s work here that I feel compelled to backtrack and catch his 2018 effort “The Domestics.” Pro tip: Stick around through the closing credits – they’re some of the best I’ve ever seen.