Film Review – Wrong Turn (2021)

Highly politicised refresh of the enduring Wrong Turn franchise obsessed with face-based tree trauma.

A diverse group of privileged Millennials, too young to have seen An American Werewolf in London, hit the Appalachian Trail and ignore local advice to “stick to the path.”

Come for the breathtaking views and envious Instagram likes. Stay for the terrifying skull masks, ghillie suited psychos and the congenital bloodlust of backwater justice.

Structurally imaginative, and fully self-aware of expected carnage levels, this rangy refresh is one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. The screaming spectre of post-Trump America looms over the backwoods slash fuckery, fleshing out the usual inbred hostility with George A. Romero style social commentary.

Production levels are upper tier with redolent cinematography, unfussy editing and quality acting galvanising the ruminative screenplay.

Sure, there are plot holes you can drive a rusty hillbilly Winnebago through and character decisions that will make you tut like a pimped up swamp boat engine. However, they feel homely and organic within a film that is so willing to placate its genre-savvy target audience.

Many horror hounds will check-in just to soak up the type of graphic kills expected from the established Wrong Turn equation. However, the formula is tweaked somewhat in this instance with the roughish excess superseded by a more grounded grisliness.

The early parts of the flick are more concerned with gruesome aftermath than explicit carnage, cutting away at times from the exact moment of juicy contact. But don’t worry, by the time we reach the frenetic final third nothing is left to stew in the sanctuary of the imagination.

Throughout this lively brand rejuvenation, the effects are stylishly constructed with a hefty practical edge. Mean and meaty, they deliverer a squishy conveyor belt of woodland whacking’s, tortuous trap terminations and brutal branch bashings. 

The main protagonist Jen, played with exuberance and heart by the impressive Charlotte Vega, makes for a rootable heroine. Her character is in part based on the determination and resilience of Clarice from Silence of The Lambs. Listen out for the flagrant and distasteful reference point to this in the form of an odour Easter egg.

Matthew Modine gives a spirited performance as the father searching for his lost daughter and Bill Sage convinces as the head of a societal underbelly with a communal approach to both life and death. 

The various strands of the narrative emerge and recede with a pleasing flow and this is a flick that definitely knows when to hit the turbo pedal and when to simmer menacingly. Beginning with tightly marshalled character building and closing out with a deliciously restrained sequence that is both slick and quietly audacious.

Thematically this thoughtful terror ride casts its net wide and far. The BLM movement, entrenched gender roles, the hollowness of capitalism and the scorched earth policy of nationalism are just a few of many issues that are ruthlessly rugby tackled into the mossy ground.

One of its main philosophical filaments is the danger of prejudging sections of society through ignorance. Both of the sides in conflict here prove guilty of this crime and the film has the courage and ingenuity to let the audience explore the ramifications for themselves. A rare process welcome in any genre let alone a supposedly generic body count flick.

Ironically, Wrong Turn will initially frustrate many fright fiends cruising the horror highway for a guaranteed hallmark of habitual gratification. However, stick with it to journeys end and you will be rewarded with a rock solid and conceptually bright midnight movie that has the guts to challenge its own preconceptions.

★★★★

Signature Entertainment presents Wrong Turn (2021) UK Home Premiere on Digital Platforms 26th February and Blu-Ray & DVD May 3rd

Horror, Thriller, Politics | USA | 2020 | 109 mins | Cert 18 – strong bloody violence | Signature Entertainment | Dir. Mike P. Nelson| Matthew Modine, Emma Dumont, Charlotte Vega