I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
WRONG TURN (2021)
Rated, 109 minutes.
Director: Mike P. Nelson
Cast: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Vardaan Arora, Adrian Favela, Rhyan Elizabeth Hanavan, Tim DeZarn and Matthew Modine
Remakes get a bad rap, especially when it comes to the horror genre. Few are harder to please than horror fans when it involves a celebrated horror icon or franchise getting the reboot treatment. But the truth is, there are quite a few worth checking out, and Mike P. Nelson’s new interpretation of 2003’s Wrong Turn is very much among them.
This latest installment is much more than blood, guts, and another clan of backwoods-dwelling maniacs. It becomes pretty clear early on in Alan B. McElroy’s script (the same writer who penned the original) that we’re entering surprisingly complex and resonant territory. As McElroy states in one of the Blu-ray behind-the-scenes featurettes, he wanted this new entry to say something about our lives and cause audiences to question who the real monsters are. It’s the “brutality of assumption” and “the relentlessness to save a child’s life.”
A group of friends and couples (including Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, and Dylan McTee) hike the Appalachian Trail. Despite warning signs to stick to the path, the hikers venture off course and cross over into a land inhabited by a hidden community of mountain dwellers. (Think: M. Night Shymalan’s The Village, but with strangers coming in and not Bryce Dallas Howard trying to get out.) It becomes two different ways of life clashing, and the river running thick in red because of it. (This is where “assumption” comes into play — and if you remain curious, there’s so much more depth to that to enthrall you.)
The equally compelling “save a child’s life” plotline involves one of the friend’s fathers (Matthew Modine) trying to locate his daughter. Although this may seem routine, there is also much more to it than feels like a Jeremy Saulnier film (Blue Ruin), which involves someone unfit for what’s to come, pushing against the current anyway because you’ll do anything to protect your kids.
The best ways to describe this new Wrong Turn are surprising, innovative, and rich. Although it’s admittedly beholden to clichés (people still can’t seem to learn how to run sideways when a single-direction danger is behind them), the film keeps from falling into enough narrative traps to arrive at an exciting destination that clutches you by the throat. There are more stories to tell through this new, bold vision, and I’m all here for it.
- Charlotte Vega’s incredibly committed performance as Jen (Modine’s character’s daughter). She is a force to be reckoned with and a powerful anchor in the film. I hope to see more cool roles from her like this in the future.
- Great practical effects all around. There’s some good blood and makeup work that feels like a nice hat tip to acclaimed prosthetic makeup artist Tom Savini.
- A very sinister atmosphere that sustains attention throughout. Lots of moody green colors to match the forest. The mountain hunters wearing various Appalachian animal skulls is a creepy feature.
- Bill Sage’s unsettling turn as Venable, the elder lord of the compound. He strikes this balance between intensity and calmness that’s frightening—like a Shakespearean actor who could explode into anger at any second.
Disc Extras: The Blu-ray includes an in-depth making-of featurette. It thoroughly chronicles the film’s making, including the scripting phase, casting, developing a genuine approach to the story among the cast and crew, and specific moments from the film. The focus on the film’s ending was especially captivating. It’s apparent the filmmakers put a lot of thought into the film’s craft, story, and characters. (Check out the filmmaker’s commentary for even more fun stories.)
There are also a handful of deleted and extended scenes, which mostly consist of more character-building and dread-building moments. The one I think they should have left in the movie is the very last one in the batch. I cannot share the details of what happens in it because it occurs near the conclusion, but it involves a character saying, “I found a home.”
Film Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Now playing in select theaters and drive-ins. Also available on Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD.