31 by 31 Challenge #25: WRONG TURN (2003)

@craiggors

Inbreeding. Deformed mutants. Cannibalism. Victims making the worst possible decision in any given scenario. That’s right, it’s time to take a bite out of Wrong Turn if you’ve got the stomach for it…

Brooding hero Chris (Desmond Harrington) is attempting to get home as fast as he can, winding away down the highways of West Virginia. When traffic screeches to a halt, he takes a detour through a mountain pass and ends up crashing into some fellow youths who popped a flat tire on their way to go camping and partake in assorted debaucheries. Now they’re one big lost happy family and oh right, they’re being hunted by three cannibals that have been warped physically and mentally by generations of inbreeding.

The Wrong Turn series is a curious fixture in the world of horror. When it first came out it gained a reputation for being sick and slick, but if you compare it to other major studio horror releases from 2000-2005 it’s actually not quite up to par. This first entry feels very indie, in fact, though there are some decent gross-out scenes when the group stumbles upon the mountain men’s homestead and finds out what’s cooking. The makeup for the cannibals is definitely big budget too, and probably the movie’s strongest feature. But the rest comes off very low-budget.

That’s not a bad thing by any means, but when your production value doesn’t match the very clearly studio mandated level of storytelling, it’s somewhat jarring. Typically, independent horror films offer something new or fresh to the genre. This is either because a studio won’t take the risk of telling a darker, more complicated, or confusing story, or because budget and time constraints force independent filmmakers to get extra creative in how to tell their tale. But there’s nothing new about the plot, characters, or setting of Wrong Turn. Teenagers get lost. Teenagers get hacked. Teenagers fight back. Setup to repeat in sequels ad nauseam. It’s a mix of The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Deliverance (1972), and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1973) resulting in a somewhat bland milkshake.

But a milkshake is still a milkshake, after all, and there are good points to bring up here. There are some great camera angles and shots that work perfectly for a backwoods horror film, the special effects are effective and fairly seamless, and the actors do a solid job with parts that are neither particularly challenging or interesting. The shortened 84-minute runtime also ensures that not a single frame is wasted. This is impressive given that the film actually takes time setting up the atmosphere before unleashing the cannibals on both the characters and the audience. They’re often shielded from view or played in shadow until the most climactic moments, heightening the dread and the shock value when we finally get a glimpse of their monstrous faces.

Overall, Wrong Turn is a very paint-by-numbers horror film that still gets the job done and delivers on violence and visuals without overstaying its welcome and making you feel as though you’ve wasted your time. It’s a perfect movie for the Halloween season when your brain just isn’t up to something more cerebral or complex but you still want to watch a fright flick. A true popcorn movie. So grab a bowl and throw it on some time; you’ll have fun. Just make sure you look down each time you grab a handful, or you never know what you’ll end up eating…

Wrong Turn

  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror