“Remember, it’s movie night. The boys picked something with inbred cannibals.” “Again?”
Most horror reboots, at least this side of the 21st century, fall at the first hurdle: not doing anything new or innovative with the material. Think back to Texas Chainsaw 3D, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2009) or even The Grudge (2020): all bland, derivative, and ultimately unsuccessful.
That’s where Wrong Turn (2021) pops up – a reimagining of the early-noughties horror franchise, which has petered out in recent years with lacklustre entries like Wrong Turn: Bloodlines and Wrong Turn: Last Resort. With the franchise on its knees, in steps Mike P. Nelson’s entertaining reboot, that fixes the problems of previous entries and provides plenty of reliable horror thrills.
The film focuses on Jen (Charlotte Vega), one of six affluent teen friends who decide to go hiking in the Appalachian Trail. Of course, things go awry, and as they drift away from the beaten path, they encounter the Foundation: a medieval-inspired tribe of traditionalists led by John (Bill Sage) who are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their land and preserve their heritage. Yet one thing they aren’t expecting is Jen’s father, Scott (Matthew Modine), who stops at nothing to find her – but he may not like what he discovers…
Perhaps crucially, it shuns the problematic tropes that previous entries often relied upon: notably the reliance on villains having deformities. The film toys with ideas of classism, with a group of middle-class teens turning their nose up to this indigenous, lower-class community, but handles it with much more panache than the originals, creating a really nuanced scenario where the bad guys may not be so bad. The impression you’ll get from the first act – that the Foundation are violent, tribal and backwards – is cleverly subverted later on, and without going into it, it’s a very refreshing change of perspective for the franchise.
Yet it also has the skill to transfer this clever thematic basis into horror thrills that are convincing and really visceral. Wrong Turn earns its 18 certificate with some truly brutal scenes: you’ll see everything from heads crushed by logs to decaying bodies, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments sprinkled in. Even when the script falters a little, with unsurprisingly weak characters and slightly off pacing, the kills and traps keep things entertaining, and the films chops down its cast enough that character moments towards the end do work.
Despite a first act that seems set up just like Texas Chainsaw 3D et al., with dated social media references, a forgettable cast and cringey dialogue, Wrong Turn absolutely finds its feet as things go on. Once we meet the cult and learn more about their ideology, it becomes a lot more layered and intriguing. It certainly feels like Nelson has been influenced by Ari Aster’s Midsommar – with cult imagery and shocking violence – but this isn’t a bad thing, as it takes the Wrong Turn franchise in a new direction. He also clearly knows how to wrap things up, as when things start to get stale the entire momentum of the film is spun on its head, in a final ten minutes that not only demands a sequel, but is supremely entertaining in its own right.
Overall then, Wrong Turn is a very pleasant surprise. It takes a franchise that had run itself into the ground with stale entries and problematic representations, and does something much more layered and unique. Sure, it doesn’t reinvent the horror wheel, but it breathes new life into the franchise with a clever approach, refreshing villains and brutal violence that produces plenty of gasps. Mike P. Nelson shows us how a horror reboot should be done, and it’s certainly the best example of this since 2018’s soft-reboot of Halloween. Wrong Turn is a trip into the mountains that you’ll certainly want to take.
Signature Entertainment presents Wrong Turn (2021) UK Home Premiere on Digital Platforms 26th February and Blu-Ray & DVD 3rd May