reviewed by Ken Hanke
While I have nothing particularly against the horror sub-sub-genre that dotes on the dire doings of inbred hillbilly cannibals (which probably goes back to the H.P. Lovecraft short story “The Picture in the House”), my initial reaction to Wrong Turn is that it makes Rob Zombie’s defiantly odd House of 1000 Corpses look like a masterpiece.
There are so many things wrong with Wrong Turn that it’s difficult to know where to begin, though the screenplay by Alan McElroy seems as good a place to start as any. McElroy comes to the project with some pretty impressive credits; unfortunately, they are not impressive in any positive sense. He started his career with Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers and subsequently gave us the big-screen adaptation of the first in the seemingly endless series of Rapture novels, Left Behind. Most recently, he tried foisting Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever on an unreceptive world. It doesn’t come as too great a shock, therefore, that the writing for Wrong Turn is rudimentary at best.
It’s just possible that McElroy thought that because he actually stuck in a dialogue reference to John Boorman’s Deliverance that his script would both look less like a splatter-film rip-off of that movie and attain some weight by virtue of association. Well, Wrong Turn still looks like a rip-off, and since it’s populated with people that make one long for the finely developed characters of Jason X, its weightiness is … well, a bit lacking.
There’s not much story here: Six extremely annoying, slightly long-in-the-tooth kids find themselves stranded in the wilds of West Virginia, where they soon become items on the menu for a trio of seriously anti-social, inbred hillbillies with extremely sketchy notions of housekeeping. (According to the credits, the Larry, Moe and Curly of mayhem are called Three Finger, Saw-Tooth and One-Eye, but since they’re afforded no intelligible dialogue, it hardly matters.) The plot — such as it is — revolves around who will and who won’t escape the attentions of these backwoods James Beards. Since the film boasts only two quasi-name performers, it’s not hard to guess who won’t end up on the bill of fare at Maison Erskine Caldwell. Most of the movie makes little sense, and while a lot of it is pretty repellent, it’s very rarely frightening. As is often the case in these things, the story only works if the characters behave in that peculiarly irrational manner that exists only in this kind of movie. I don’t know about anyone else, but I hardly think that after seeing one of my friends strangled with barbed wire and then hacked-up into cutlets, that I’d think the best approach is to quietly sneak out of the snoozing perpetrators’ shack, leaving the killers free to pursue and inflict similar indignities on myself and my other companions.
Director Rob Schmidt constantly mistakes murkiness for atmosphere. Long stretches of the film are so dimly lit that it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The cannibal brothers appear to have several refrigerators filled with (presumably) previous victims (we won’t worry about where they get the electricity to power these appliances), but it’s difficult to be certain just what they have on ice. This murkiness is possibly an attempt to make the movie just that much creepier — a pretty high-minded tack to take in a flick where we get to see one character’s head cleaved in twain with an axe. Reticence and suggestion just don’t go hand in hand with the bathful-of-blood-and-a-bucket-of-giblets approach otherwise evidenced here.
Schmidt is wise to shoot the proceedings so that we never get a really good look at the bad guys. Whether this is an atmospheric choice or an attempt to keep us from seeing that the makeup by the legendary Stan Winston looks an awful lot like the Thalidomide-induced “monster” designed by the legendary Rick Baker for the legendary Tobe Hooper’s less-than-legendary The Funhouse is open to conjecture. Considering that Schmidt has a sequence early in the film where one of the characters is walking along wearing a flower that his girlfriend only picks and sticks on him in a later scene may tell us enough about the director to make an educated guess.
There are a few occasionally striking visuals and a smattering of unintentional laughs (this dumb movie takes itself very seriously, making it just that much funnier), plus there’s a slight degree of tension in the last act, though it’s unlikely you’ll care. It’s far more likely that you’ll be peeved that you’ve wasted 90 minutes of your time and the price of admission instead of waiting for such classier upcoming cinematic fare as Freddy Vs. Jason.