Well, we can now add taking a wrong turn down an ominous road in the West Virginia Mountains to the master list of bad ideas, along with canoeing in backwater Georgia and stumbling around a seemingly-abandoned house in Texas. Apparently, the orcs from The Lord of the Rings reside in the "Mountain State" as bloodthirsty tourist hunters, so be sure to bring your sword and shield on a camping trip.
Wrong Turn never, for one instant, strays away from our awareness of Deliverance and Texas Chainsaw Massacre style of pictures; hell, it even blurts the title of John Boorman's banjo-dueling film smack dab in the middle. Instead, it cobbles together all the latent fears constructed in those rural-romp horror flicks and spruces it up for the 20th century crowd, adding dashes of gore and overzealous acting for good measure. Though Rob Schmidt's grueling little love-letter harks back to those flicks, it shows that it also doesn't fully comprehend the reasons that they're so disturbing -- as its visceral tension succumbs to the weaknesses of turn-of-the-century slasher flicks with its reliance on wide-eyed garishness.
After a barrage of newspaper clippings at the beginning that clamor on about violent, inbred mountain men and the like, the story's real simple: Chris Flynn (Desmond Harrington) is late for a job interview, and he's got to get through the West Virginia landscape as quick as possible. In order to steer clear of backed-up mountain traffic (who hasn't had to sit through this at least once), he bolts for a gas station and finds a detour up an abandoned dirt road that looks as if it'll by-pass the road blockage. By coincidence, as he's speeding along the road, he plows into a stalled SUV with tires punctured by barbed wire that's owned by a group of twenty-something campers out to distract a girl named Jessie (Eliza Dushku) from thinking about her recent break-up. Without workable phones, the group huffs it through the wooded area in search of a phone to call for help.
So, six scatterbrained youngsters -- an even mix of guys and girls -- are stumbling through the woods in barely-on-the-map West Virginia in a flick entitled Wrong Turn. It's pretty clear that they're not going to have an easy time of it, something sitting in the back of minds of anyone who has seen Boorman's Deliverance, Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or anyone with half a brain. Sure enough, from the shady recesses of the wooded area, we've got three inbred, genetically-mutated backwater folk gallivanting around with bow 'n arrow and hatchets ready to hack up our little cluster of would-be victims. As per Darwinism and the lay of the dense WV woodlands, only a few will survive -- yet we, as the audience, are the perverse onlookers itching to both sneak a peek at the mutilated fallen and root for the strongest of them.
Dexter's Desmond Harrington and Buffy/Dollhouse starlet Eliza Dushku lead the pack of fodder-laden characters in Wrong Turn, and the outcomes are simply embellishments on the expected. It's breakneck, blood-drenched thrills as the kids scramble away from the backwater folk, which all work on a purely primal level with absolutely nothing at its vapid core. Yes, of course we've got vested interest in both indulging in the enjoyment of some down-home gore while rooting for our stronger-willed heroes. It helps that they typically stray from ignorant decisions, aside from a handful of minor squabbles -- like a chipper little girl's need to use the bathroom in a rundown, abandoned house when yards upon yards of open-aired outdoor urinals are available -- that make us almost beg for their slaughtering due to their inhuman brainlessness. All the well-stitched chaos we're dished, from a cabin with pickled human jaws to a spine-tingling crawl amid tree canopies, is still effective enough to keep us on pins and needles and mostly not care about some of the lacking common sense or the bull-headed, hokey dialogue.
That, however, is all we've got to work with in Wrong Turn, a fistful of dirt and blood without the brains to make us remember it afterwards. It runs on adrenaline alone, surrendering intelligence for a slew of typical scare tactics that reflect heavy on its shallowness. Director Schmidt has low-ball aims, for us to gawk at its leads, relish in the body count, and to indulge in run-amuck grotesquery. Interestingly enough, the flick could learn a thing or two from its influences, realizing that a grasp on practicality -- both in the minds of the victims and in the nature of the fuming villains -- heightens our timid senses. Yep, you'll get a few jolts due to solid filmic construction, and that'll be enough for most; however, Wrong Turn sags behind due to its unwavering surface-level focus on shaking us down. A little cleverness and a lot more control could have really helped.
Video and Audio:
There's one word to describe Wrong Turn's 1.85:1 1080p AVC encode on this Fox Blu-ray: unimpressive. It has a few moments where little bits of sharpness pour through the photography, like against the texture of rocks and some of the grimier scenes in the cabin. However, outside of that, it's an exercise in blurriness and contrast issues -- only some of which are the director's intent. Though shot on a low-ish budget, the quality of the photography alone indicates that fine detail should be a great deal crisper than the slight blurriness that we've got here. Most disappointing is the replication of the attractive aerial swoops through the tree canopies above, which show fine depth of movement but very poor detail refinement. Along with that, we've also got some rather problematic contrast usage/boosting that nearly swallow details whole in darker sequences. There's no middle ground with black levels, either projecting light-covered portions or pitch-black darkness, while some of the blistering high-contrast points let off a taste of edge enhancement in a few patches. Even though the colors are somewhat correct with lighter sequences, the print is largely damage-free and movement looks fine, it's simply not a pleasing effort that shows little in the way of high-definition pop.
At least Wrong Turn has a potent little DTS HD Master Audio to counterbalance the dissatisfying video. Though a little lopsided towards the more jump-worthy moments, it's carrying plenty of punch during the scenes where it ramps up the activity. Elements like a thunderous hatchet slice and a steadfast arrow from a bow hit tree-trunks amid explosive blast with impressive naturalness in both the LFE and mid-range sound quadrants. Some nature surround effects like water falling also breeze to the rear channels, along with the elements at play when a car whizzes by in front of us. Some of the verbal clarity only showcases marginal robustness -- getting a little hampered in a few sequences -- and the score kind of falls flat, which shows that the rough-and-tumble track only knows how to thunder along. Still, it's impressive in all the scenes where it's really important. Spanish and French Dolby 5.1 tracks are also included, along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
Commentary with director Schmidt, Eliza Dushku, and Desmond Harrington:
Schmidt reaffirms his desire to make a pure '70s-style horror flick in this commentary, harking on the pure terror that he tries to construct. The track bounces around in content, with Dushku and Harrington offering little quips and entertaining peanut-gallery style goodies throughout ("and now we've got a movie"). It is, however, a bit sparse in several scenes as they're watching the content. Along with praise for cinematographer John Bartley's work, they also toss out snippets about effect mastermind / producer Stan Winston and his contributions to the film.
Fresh Meat: The Wounds of Wrong Turn (9:25, SD MPEG-2):
Running briskly for less than ten minutes, this featurette is actually quite a bit better than the average quick-shot assembly snippet. It includes producer Stan Winston giving us nice in-depth overviews of each of the deformed mountain men, as well as Rob Schmidt offering a great anecdote about The Exorcist, smoking, and adrenaline release. Furthermore, it also reveals some of the visual tricks and make-up effects that went on behind-the-scenes, including test footage for the disturbing barb-wire sequence early in the flick and the somewhat memorable axe kill late in the game.
Making of Wrong Turn (4:03, SD MPEG-2):
Ah, that's more like it. Running underneath five minutes, this disposable little blurb is little more than spliced-together shots from the film, bombastic narration, and quick plot overview interviews, it's pretty useless.
We've also got a string of Deleted Scenes (7:00, SD MPEG-2), a bit entitled Eliza Dushku: Babe in the Woods (3:43,SD MPEG-2) that's precisely about what it sounds like it about, a quick yet nice Stan Winston Featurette (4:40, SD MPEG-2), and a Trailer (2:14, SD MPEG-2).
If you're looking for a hair-raising, brutal headcount slice of horror, the Rob Schmidt's Wrong Turn satisfies that type of bloodlust. Outside of a strong like of chilling thrills and strong make-up work, there's very little to take away from this one-dimensional romp through the West Virginia wilderness. Fox's Blu-ray really doesn't look very good, but the sound option is a modest beast and the special features aren't all that bad. In any concoction, it's a Rental of a film -- but you're not going to be all that satisfied with the high-definition treatment, if you go that route.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site