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Shriekfest 2010: “Wrong Turn” (2003)

The month of the Great Pumpkin is upon us, and this year I plan to do it up proper: by watching a horror film every night Oct. 1-31. Expect as many reviews as these fingers can eke out, and let the shudders (of fright and of disgust) begin.

People who don’t believe in signs would do well to watch more horror films, which hammer down — with forceful, bloody thwacks — the importance of knowing your surroundings. That road that forks into two paths, one clean and flora-dotted and the other sporting a crude sign scrawled on broken planks? It’s not there for toots and chuckles. The dirty feller sporting the overalls and one sad, lonely snaggletooth? President of the Hillbilly Welcome Wagon he ain’t. And that ring of barbed wire that blew out your front tire? An inhospitable squirrel didn’t put it there.

These scenes describe Rob Schmidt’s “Wrong Turn.” That’s a brain duster, right? They could describe any one of hundreds of horror films where comely, hard-bodied city slickers trek out into untamed wilderness (the mountains are popular with this crowd, particularly if they’re in the Deep South) for “fun in nature.” This concept has been done so often it’s become a formula — hardly a bad thing, since a formula becomes a formula by working. The problem with a workable formula is that, after years and years, it gets to be ho-hum without a few tweaks here, a little ingenuity there. “Wrong Turn” is devoid of such tweaks. It’s an occasionally gripping, mostly average rehash of every trick found in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making a Horror Film

The opening scenes announce as much, providing a fun way to pass the time during the duller moments of “Wrong Turn.” Grab a pen and prepare to start checking boxes. Erstwhile hero Chris (Desmond Harrington, either a bored actor or a boring one) speeds down a West Virginia highway on his way to an interview in Raleigh. He’s stopped by a traffic jam and decides to take a back road. (Note: This is horror code for “that’s a really terrible idea, if you live to regret it.”) Distracted, he slams his car — a real beaut, and about the only victim you’ll truly miss — into an SUV filled with some friends on a weekend jaunt: Carly (Emmanuelle Criqui) and fiancée Scott (Jeremy Sisto, stealing the few good lines), stoner couple Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth) and the newly dumped Jessie (Eliza Dushku). As it happens, the SUV’s got a flat caused by some mysterious barbed wire. Only Jesse’s got the brains to realize it was planted. For the rest, prepare for autopilot — one group goes for help, the other stays behind and both get hunted by mountain dwellers who resemble the lovechild of Gollum and Larry the Cable Guy.

It’s pointless to add more details. Viewers under heavy sedation could anticipate what moves the characters make. Start to finish, there’s not a surprise to be found, so quit hoping. In fact, start the film hopeless and proceed accordingly. But there are a few genuinely tense moments in “Wrong Turn,” including a scene of Harrington and Dushku trapped under a bed with lumpy-headed mountainman slumbering above. A few points could be awarded for set design; it’s sufficiently eerie and grimy enough to cause some unease. There are a few stabs at humor, and all of them come from Sisto, the only actor determined to have some fun with the part. When Carly, for example, insists “I need to pee,” Scott’s response is unexpectedly clever: “I need to remind you of a little movie called ‘Deliverance.'” Oh, if only the rest of the script was that snarky, or the rest of the actors the least bit interested in cutting loose. Dushku revives her tough girl persona and gets in a few wisecracks, but Harrington is poor choice of partner in a verbal sparring match. Even when he’s running for his life, he looks thoroughly disinterested.

The crazed mountain-dwellers, though? Why, this is a humdinger of a feast for them, now. They get to grunt and snort and hack apart the Hot Dead People with abandon. In terms of make-up they aren’t particularly frightening — unless you count the overalls. Which brings me to the worst flaw of all in “Wrong Turn”: the assumption that all Southerners wear overalls. Oh well. I suppose it’s something of a gift that they aren’t show eating dirt as an appetizer.

Grade: C-

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13 Responses

  1. Awwww…. I love Wrong Turn. Plus, it was one of the first in the onslaught of backwoods horror movies to come out so I give it a pass!

    • I don’t mind a formula, but I don’t think “Wrong Turn” does anything with it. Plus, the backwoods hillbilly thing is an insult. I’m not saying they don’t exist; I’m just saying they’re not EVERYWHERE YOU GO in the South. We have paved roads. We have well-lit gas stations. We don’t all wear flannel and overalls.

  2. I’d file this under “okay” if Wrong Turn 2 wasn’t such a superior picture. That movie didn’t even get a theatrical release; it’s DTV horror and it’s fantastic. This just feels really routine, and if not for the sequel its only reason for being would be to show us Emmanuelle Chriqui having her head chopped in half.

  3. I agree with you M. Not only is the movie formulaic, but it is just plain boring.
    Suggestions for your horror movie a day experiment:
    Teeth–a Canadian film
    The Birds or Psycho
    The Hitcher (the original one, not the flashy remake with Boromir)
    Creepshow
    The Thing

  4. I’m writing about The Wicker Man (the good one) sometime this month…it’d be awesome to hear someone else chime in on that film too. Just a “horror movie a day” suggestion!

  5. I’ve been watching at least one a day with you Meredith. Unfortunately time and life have interrupted and I’ve been nowhere prolific enough to do too many write-ups. I saw this one awhile back though, alone, in the middle of the night, during summer with a camping trip planned. It had no lingering effect. It was fun to have such pretty cast members pitted against such ghoulish foes, and the occasional moment of scary, but it general was a cliched repeat of other films done better before and since. By the end I didn’t care who died, how they died, or what happened because I was bored silly. Not a great thing for any kind of movie but especially a horror flick. I watch pieces of it now and again when on cable, but couldn’t muster the energy or commitment to see more than the time-frame between commercials when inevitably something more interesting like an infomercial will pop up and I’ll entirely forget about it. Fair rating, and as usual impeccable write up.

    • @ Andrew — Really? The sequel is BETTER? How often in the movie world does that happen? I’ll have to give it a viewing. I believe I have the original “Wicker Man” in my Netflix queue. I’ve seen so few horror films — was never a fan of the genre till now — that I’m having to play catch-up!

      @ Unruly — I’ve got “Teeth” in my queue as well as “The Thing.” I hope to get to them before the end of Shriekfest 2010!

      @ Heather — Yeah, “Wrong Turn” is nothing particularly special. It’s one of those horror films where you can predict almost every single move the characters will make, whether it’s because of obvious camera close-ups, or obvious dialogue, or obvious — well, you get the idea. Dushku and Sisto were the saving graces, and the rest was “meh.” And being Southern, I can take lots of ribbing about middle-of-nowhere gas stations and overalls and toothless hillbillies and whatnot, but sometimes it’s just too cartoonish to laugh at. That was the case here.

  6. I hope you can get to them too because I am quite interested in what you would have to say about them.

  7. Yeah, I realized that after I had suggested it. lousy internet, destroying my memory both long term and short term. Oh well, I guess that’s why we have the internet, so we can forget things, and then remember that we forgot them, or something like that.

  8. I had always thought that Wrong Turn was a good film but maybe it was the second one I was thinking of??? Either way I haven’t seen any of them and this doesn’t entice me to start now. One day I’ll have to get over my fear of Wrong Turn and check it out.

    Maybe if I start running out of better horror flicks to watch this month I’ll throw it in. Things don’t look good for it though! HAHA!

    • Andrew above said the second film was superior (haven’t seen that one yet), so maybe that’s the one you thought of. This is one is just meh. Completely paint-by-numbers and very few genuinely surprising moments throughout. I really hate horror films where the foreshadowing is laid on with a trowel and I can predict every single thing that happens.

  9. Why is it the terrible films get 2 or three even more mind-numbing DTV sequels. I guess, aside from common sense, you can tell what films to avoid based on the premise, trailer or even the cover of the movie. The last 1 to 2 minutes proved to be the only satisfying part. Well that and the Easter Egg in the credits.

    But as a whole, there was no redeeming value. Further the movie had probably the most ludicrous forest/up in the tree sequences ever put on film. Another in that category you ask? Answer: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yup, there’s no end to my hatred of that film:P

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