Wrong Turn (2021) Review: A wrong turn for the franchise
As someone whose had a strong appreciation for the cult horror series Wrong Turn, the news of a reboot coming left me filled with excitement at the potential for this series to make a big return.
Wrong Turn is that cult cannibal horror franchise that couldn’t rise from obscurity. The first two entries are easily the most beloved by horror fans, even with the mixed reception from critics, since they have memorable kills, fun antagonists, solid performances, and at least stood out amongst other slashers in the genre. As for the four films that followed, well, there’s a reason they’ve become forgotten straight to DVD releases that went totally off the rails and plummeted the franchise back into deep obscurity. Now, this new reboot looks to take things in its own direction and bring the franchise into new territory – which it certainly does for better and for worse.
At the very the least, this reboot takes Wrong Turn out of its straight to DVD look with improved atmospheric visuals and ambitious scares. The cinematography from Nick Junkersfeld definitely looks like it would belong on the big screen with how he captures the thick Appalachian Woods and the mysterious cult that lives within it. The costumes design for the cult, called The Foundation, is great as it’s simple and plays into the environment really well. There’s this great moment where someone is disguised as a tree that catches you off guard and is a surprisingly fun reveal.
The reboot also offers some of the most horrifying visuals and kills of the series that’ll make any and all gore hounds pleased. Director Mike P. Nelson and franchise veteran writer Alan B. McElroy definitely don’t mess around in creating visuals that are totally unsettling and memorable kills. The effects are some of the best in the franchise, which admittedly is a low bar to hurdle, and there’s an absolutely skin-crawling sequence where we get to see what the Foundation’s darkness punishment looks like. It’s the kind of stuff that haunts your dreams and is probably the best and most memorable moment in the entire film – possibly the entire franchise.
It’s also admirable that Nelson attempts to take things in a different direction, but it unfortunately can’t subvert itself completely and creates a mess of a story. At its core, the film still harnesses the same idea of a group of hikers/teens getting lost in some backwoods and running into a faction, this time the Foundation rather than mutated cannibals, that has their own plans for them, but it’s far from it being a Wrong Turn movie. Frankly, there’s no reason for this to be a Wrong Turn movie since it harnesses nearly nothing that made the franchise so special. It takes itself much more seriously than those films ever did and never remotely connects to those films. Instead, it’s just another “reboot” that utilizes the title of an established, recognizable franchise to better itself. It’s in the same vein as Blumhouse’s reboots of Black Christmas and The Craft and even harnesses the same issues.
The film overly politicizes its characters and story by constantly throwing in political talk that doesn’t need to be there. The whole sequence where final girl Jen (Charlotte Vega) tells off a disgruntled local that perceives her and her friends as privileged and lazy is fine, but the film basically turns all its characters into political caricatures. It’s hard to understand why these reboots need to have these overly political characters since it’s so overbearing in its delivery that it just makes it frustrating to watch and it offers such little depth to the characters. Also, Wrong Turn was never really a political minded franchise and it subverts the film in an undesirable way. It creates these annoying political debates at times that go nowhere and sparks this awful bickering between the main group that makes you more and more frustrated by them as time goes on.
The story itself is fine as The Foundation can be interesting and have a pretty cool look and village setting. However, the film doesn’t take all that much time to establish them and they’re so mean-spirited and unlikable that you don’t end up caring about them all that much. There’re a couple of good suspenseful moments, but the over-editing really makes the film’s more action-oriented moments a choppy mess. Worst of all is that this okay story is wrapped in a tortuous two-hour runtime that drags things out immensely and creates an overly complex plot that loses its luster quickly.
This “reboot” is hard to judge who it’s really for. Anyone looking for a true return of the Wrong Turn series won’t find it here because the film is such a diversion from the cannibalistic horror the series is known for. And anyone looking for something new will find a couple interesting things the film simply can’t capitalize on and a story and cast of characters that are frustrating. The Wrong Turn reboot is really just another wrong turn for the series.