WRONG TURN (2003)
By Chris Ward
It seems that the ‘redneck cannibal’ movie is fast becoming a genre all of its own this decade, in a similar way that the slasher dominated eighties horror. As with then, the market has become so saturated it’s now time to try and separate the wheat from the chaff, and recent efforts have ranged from the terrible – like 2006’s ‘…Chainsaw Massacre’ rip-off ‘The Butcher’ – to the excellent, such as Alexandre Aja’s remake of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’.
‘Wrong Turn’ follows a similar theme to both of those movies, and actually falls somewhere between the two. The plot (as if you hadn’t guessed already!) concerns a young medical student called Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington) who is on his way to a job interview. After getting stuck in traffic that doesn’t seem to be moving anytime soon, he makes a u-turn and heads into the hills to look for an alternative route. After asking for directions – and getting no help – from a hillbilly garage owner, Chris comes to a fork in the road and – guess what? – takes the…wrong turn. Not paying attention to the road, he crashes into another car that has hit some barbed wire and had it’s tyres punctured. Leaving two of the other car’s occupants to stand guard, Chris and the three remainding people head off along the track to try and find help. Unbeknown to them, though, they are all now in the territory of a family of inbred cannibals who begin to pick them all off one by one, starting with the two guarding the cars. After stumbling upon the family’s shack in the woods, Chris and his new friends now find themselves locked in a struggle for survival, as all hope of finding a way out of the forest gets slimmer.
All sound familiar? Of course it does, as this is a movie that wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve and isn’t ashamed to do so. In fact, make the kids in this movie into a family and this could very nearly be a remake of ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, but, and this is the movie’s main strength, due to the breakneck pacing of the action and flowing narrative, it isn’t until the movie is over that all the faults become obvious. Harrington is a pretty uncharismatic lead, and the other kids aren’t particularly likeable – except for Jeremy Sisto, who gives an amusing turn as the awkward Scott – and that is a pretty big flaw in these types of movie. The cannibals themselves are also pretty non-descript, as far as villains go. Yes, they may look horrible, with their unconvincing make-up and prosthetics, but none of them show any individual characteristics, meaning that they really could be anybody. That may be the effect that the makers were after – that there really are people like this and you really could bump into them anywhere – but, unlike the mutants in ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, there were no defining character traits, no real standout baddie.
But there are some good moments to be had here. There is genuine tension in some of the scenes, like when the group discover the cannibal’s cabin. Mainly due to some lightening quick editing, because nothing is actually happening on-screen, but there is a feeling of creeping dread that a lot of these movies try, and normally fail, at achieving. There are also other flashes of inventiveness with the camerawork – like the shot when the reflection of somebody being cut up is shown in a hidden witnesses eyeball – but these moments are few and far between. And of course, the real reason anybody watches these movies is for the kills themselves, and they are suitably gruesome. Maybe not quite as graphic as they could have been (which isn’t always a bad thing), there is blood and body parts aplenty, including a pretty cool death scene up a tree – no more info, you’ll just have to watch!
The main problem with this movie, though, is that isn’t quite sure where to fit in. It isn’t a totally serious piece – the almost slapstick movements of the mutants and the inclusion of Scott take any real edge off some of the scenes – but nor does it easily slot in the ‘teen horror/comedy’ niche, unlike the 2007 sequel that suffered a lot of the same flaws as this movie, but seemed to be almost self-knowing in it’s more comedic moments.
Overall, ‘Wrong Turn’ is a good movie. Not great, like the sequel, but certainly better than a lot of what passes for ‘video nasties’ these days. If you’ve never seen ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ or any of the other usual culprits then you’ll probably think this is the mutts nuts, but for those of us who have seen more of these types of movie than is probably good for us, then there are better examples around. The real test of quality for these movies is whether you’ll watch it more than once, and judging it by that theory then ‘Wrong Turn’ just about passes.