The hot takes are coming! The hot takes are coming!
Make no mistake, Wrong Turn 2021 is going to piss a lot of people off. Brace yourself, in particular, for the ‘Have these guys even seen a Wrong Turn film?’ take. (Never mind that the original screenwriter returned to pen this updated re-imagining.) Despite taking a massive–and I do mean MASSIVE–departure from the formula, the film offers an action-packed joyride through a brazen landscape. Filled with more twists than a Shyamalan marathon, and with the most endings since Return of the King, the big horror release of the year is here, and it packs a whallop!
A franchise’s name is simultaneously the source of its greatest asset and greatest liability. While a familiar name draws an audience, that audience brings with them expectations based on a pre-approved formula. Any deviation typically sees fans reaching for their torches and pitchforks, and few franchise formulas are as rote as Wrong Turn. Against that backdrop, director Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) and writer Alan McElroy (Wrong Turn 2003, Halloween 4) ‘nut up’ and gratuitously eviscerate the familiar formulaic structure, instead injecting familiar formulaic structures of our other horror favorites from the late 90’s and early 2000s.
In what can fairly be described as ‘kitchen sink’ horror, Nelson and McElroy hit us with not just their best, but every conceivable shot, hurtling a fury of blunt story-telling beats at the audience like a primitive mace. Each act presents a new slate of potential villains, from a town full of Appalachian rednecks, to a group of yuppie ‘SJWs’, to, yes, even a group of primitive mountain folk dubbed ‘The Foundation.’ Assumptions are made by and about these different groups of characters–and, admittedly, by the audience too–which lead to ferocious action and, ultimately, deadly consequences.
McElroy’s intelligent, insightful script cuts right to the heart of the urban/rural divide that perpetuates today’s culture war. Nelson’s director’s statement called it “a movie that reflects the state of the mind of the world today,” and boy does it. The filmmaking team constantly challenges our own perceptions and biases about each other, throwing the consequences of our preconceptions right in our face. It’s also no wonder that the world they create prominently features an entire community that essentially refused to take sides in a divided world.
But as interesting as a nearly two hour meditation on post-Trump America might be, I highly doubt anyone expected to find one embedded in the middle of Wrong Turn. Nelson cautions that “we are all capable of being the most extreme versions of ourselves.” We certainly know this to be true, and I commend Nelson and McElroy for having the balls to work such timely themes into such a gruesomely wickedly horror movie.
Looking past the filmmakers’ audacity of thumbing their nose at franchise tradition, you might instead find the kind of horror movie that takes its time. Wrong Turn steadily, but deliberately, turns up the heat on our main characters with a savage gut punch and steadily ramping up the creep factor. The pacing also enables Nelson to flex those magnificent world building muscles he first showed us in The Domestics.
You might think that the Wrong Turn franchise doesn’t need strong world building, and you could be forgiven for thinking so. After all, it rose from relatively simple roots and spawned a legion of fans likely looking for little more than brutal killers, gratuitous nudity, and city folks on the run in the mountains of West Virginia. And make no mistake: if that’s what you’re checking in for, you’d be better off revisiting one of the six other entries in this franchise.
However, if you’re interested in, or at least willing to entertain, a little complexity, and show a little patience, Nelson and McElroy built an elaborate world full of memorable characters .. and boy do they have sights to show you. Despite the length, I found surprisingly little downtime. Tense confrontations, savage traps, and gruesome punishments lead an epic reimagining of the Wrong Turn franchise. Expert makeup and practical effects work provide us with some of the most disturbing visuals of the year.
Wrong Turn earns its ‘R’ rating, never shying away from brutal, realistic gore that might make you wish you gouged your eyes out. Playing out almost like a prequel, you could put The Foundation up against any tribe from The Domestics and picture the epic war ensuing between them. The filmmakers created a rich world worthy of the epic story that unfolds.
Granted, long-time fans of the franchise may feel that this new re-imagining is simply “too much”, longing for the simpler times of the early 2000’s. But make no mistake, Wrong Turn 2021 will absolutely take you for a thrill ride if you let it.
Wrong Turn played in select theaters as part of a Fathom Events screening on January 26, 2021, and will be released on digital and blu ray on February 23.