by Del Harvey
Revisits the slasher genre with relentless dedication.
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Young man in a hurry for a job interview is running late, thanks to a jack-knifed semi on the freeway. Asking for directions at a forgotten, rundown, backwoods gas station, he is given the cold shoulder by the dilapidated owner, but spies a possible side road through the mountains. The dirt track through the remote West Virginia mountains is only 15 miles long, but it’s an eternity in Hell when he rams into a Land Rover parked around a curve in the road, all four of its tires flattened. The quintet attached to the rover includes Jessie (Eliza Dushku—Bring It On, Soul Survivors) and Scott (Jeremy Sisto—Suicide Kings and TV’s Six Feet Under). They set out, along with the young man (Desmond Harrington—Ghost Ship, We Were Soldiers) and Scott’s fiancée, Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui—100 Girls, Snow Day) to find help, a phone, anything. They don’t have to walk far before they find signs of the local denizens just off the road: some roadkill and a lonely, roaring fire. The companions left behind to wait with the vehicles, Francine (Lindy Booth) and Evan (Kevin Zegers) come face-to-face with the locals, their last experience in this world.
Combining the best of the slasher variety of horror film, a la Friday the 13th, with the worst fears of truly horrific dramas as Deliverance and Straw Dogs, Wrong Turn tries hard to infuse new life into the genre. From the opening scene featuring a pair of climbers in a remote area who are suddenly and viciously attacked by an unseen horror, director Rob Schmidt sets the tone for the gruesome events to come. And, to his credit as well as that of effects whiz Stan Winston and writer Alan B. McElroy, Wrong Turn keeps the suspense at a fever pitch right up to the very end.
I’ve read nothing but negative reviews for this film, which is undoubtedly why I had the entire theatre to myself for the 12:30 matinee showing. Too bad. These reviewers should go back and watch the original Friday the 13th and compare films. And they should go through every slasher film to hit the screen ever since the immensely popular first Friday the 13th first hit the screen in 1980. Last year saw the release of a far inferior Jason X, and this year sees the match-up of Jason Voorhees with Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street—a copycat series which would not come along until four years after the first Friday film. There are literally hundreds of horrible attempts to recreate the senseless, nonstop violence of these types of films, which owe a large debt to Italian horror-meisters Dario Argento and Mario Bava. And hundreds of these imitators fail. It is rare when one even comes close.
In order to involve you in the characters’ plight, the gore and grisly factors have been turned to a pretty high level in Wrong Turn. Even so, I thought that the filmmakers’ tried hard to keep the graphic violence to a minimum. The worst scene is an axe to one camper’s head as she clings to the top of a tree. The monsters are misshapen humans, castaways by society, left to their own for what appears to have been decades in the smoky mountains of West Virginia. They live by their own rules, which includes eating lost tourists. While we are not shown any visuals of the happy mountain boys actually chowing down on their victims, we are shown reactions on several camper’s faces as the butchering is done. Very grisly and frightening stuff.
Which leads me to the one major letdown I found with the film: the suspense and terror is kept at such a high level for so long, it wears you down. It works, but it makes you feel as though you’ve been put through the wringer. At one point I felt as though I could not watch the story much longer, but by the end I was glad I held out. There are many story elements which we have all seen before, but that is often the case with any genre. There is only so much you can do with a bunch of hillbilly cannibals and lost campers. All things considered, Wrong Turn is far better than many reviewers would have you believe.
The outstanding acting here is by Harrington, Dushku, and Sisto. Harrington shows a propensity for the strong, silent type, which should serve him well as his career progresses. Dushku has talent, but seems to be struggling with her beauty. I certainly hope she learns to live with it and gets on with her acting career. And Jeremy Sisto has shown he is capable of a wide range of characters and emotions in many other films and television programs. Here he simply adds to that repertoire while infusing some much-needed levity and sanity in an otherwise dark bunch of frightened individuals.
Wrong Turn is a good scare. If you like this genre, or just need to have your skin tightened up a bit, I recommend checking it out.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He is also a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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