By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
When the reboot of the Wrong Turn franchise was announced I was so excited. The first movie made a huge impact with its simple storytelling and chilling reality. Bigfoot, mountain lions and bears surely could not all be responsible for all those disappearances in our sweeping forests and wilderness. The idea of a Hills Have Eyes type clan living in isolation, peppering the forest with traps for the unwary travellers who stray off designated paths to explore the Great Outdoors was a good one. Those images of all those cars and lost families was startling enough because we are surrounded by tales of people going missing mysteriously every day, never to be found.
The original also played into the age old theme of something lurking out there unseen by the civilised world but whispered about in the fireside tales of the people of small towns and mountain folk. Something that as long as you don’t bother whatever was lurking in the woods, it wouldn’t bother you. The existence of the inbred cannibals is shocking because they are outside any normal person’s sphere of reality. Their brutal lethal attacks on strangers in the woods makes the original movie so gripping. A dense forest compared to the wastes of the desert provides many more places for the mutants to hide and track their prey. The many sequels/prequel come up with more inventive deaths and scares and actually expands the story and the mutants background. By the end of those movies most people would have preferred to fight Bigfoot instead of the mad cannibals.
So when the first trailer landed for the new reboot, it kept back the cannibals but the lethal traps were right there in your face. That first image of the huge log rolling down the hill immediately fired our imagination. The mysterious masked figures lurking among the trees also made us believe the mutants would have new tactics in this reboot. Indeed the townsfolk telling Matthew Modine’s Scott Shaw of the scary mountain forest dwellers actually gave me the impression a lot of thought had been put into this to make it different rather than a retread like so many other reboots.
So it’s more the pity when we don’t see one mutant cannibal. Written by the 2003 original writer Alan B McElroy, it makes sense he would try to bring a new angle to the story. The problem is the sadistic cannibals are so engrained to the movie itself, it’s like mentioning Star Wars without thinking of Darth Vader. It is impossible not to say the words Wrong Turn and not expect to see them cackling madly.
This is totally what we expect to see when the young Jen Shaw and her boyfriend Darius along with couples Adam and Milla and Gary and Luis arrive to hike the mountain and see the sights. Darius leads them on a wrong turn and off the beaten path. Instead we get the isolationist Foundation founded in 1859 and whom believe the end of America is near. We see Foundation members as masked and camouflaged figures lurking in the bushes instilling a real sense of mystery as we eagerly await to see what lies beneath the masks. We smugly think we are going to ee our cannibal friends back in action again. To further subvert our expectations our lambs to the slaughter are caught in the forest traps that must have been created by our favourite mad mountain killers.
Gary is crushed by the rolling log from the trailer, their phones go missing along with Mila and Adam is caught in a trap dragged underground by a chain, presumed dead. We are totally drawn to expect to see the cannibals and before long the presumed dead Adam is being carried off by two animal skull masked camouflaged figures instilling a real sense of mystery as we eagerly await to see what lies beneath the masks. They speak an unknown language and Adam kills one by smashing their head in. As an audience we assume it is a cannibal mutant so are cheering Adam on to kill them before they get killed.
But this subversion is a let down as instead we get the isolationist Foundation founded in 1859 and whom believe the end of America is near. They have created their own society and there isn’t a cannibal mutant in sight. Led by the enigmatic Venable, Jen and the others discover that the traps are to keep people away and catch animals for food. The man Adam murdered was actually helping him down the mountain so as not to contaminate the Foundation’s way of life. Caught lying, Jen and the survivors are sentenced to death. Adam has his head smashed in as punishment for his crime. Luis is blinded and thrown in a pit. Jen saves her and Darius from the same fate when she pledges them to be serving members of the Foundation and become Venable’s wife. But Jen’s father is close and determined to save his daughter.
This simply doesn’t feel like Wrong Turn at all and given another name would be run of the mill movie. The ease with which Jen and her father escape at the end is eye rolling to say the least. The twist ending actually leaves no room for a sequel as Jen’s story is complete. Yes there is a way to bring her back into the story but this 2021 Wrong Turn is almost a stand alone movie on its own. It’s like having no Freddy Krueger in a Nightmare on Elm Street so therefore it’s not Elm Street. It’s no Wrong Turn without the cannibals so the disappointment when the end credits rolled was palpable. Bottom line is we need Saw Tooth and Three Finger back for more mountain madness.