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Wrong Turn (2021)
I apparently lost track of the Wrong Turn franchise over the last decade. I did not realize there had already been five sequels to Rob Schmidt's 2003 original about a group of inbred cannibals hunting teenage campers in the West Virginia mountains. That movie is not exactly good, but it is an entertaining B-movie. It also stars Eliza Dushku, who is awesome. I was not champing at the bit for another sequel or reboot, but I am happy to report this 2021 Wrong Turn (or Wrong Turn: Foundation internationally) is an example of how you refresh a concept and make it relevant for today's audiences. Directed by Mike P. Nelson and written by Alan McElroy, who wrote the original and other horror flicks like Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, the film sees a group of young-professional friends run into some trouble along the Appalachian Trail, this time in Virginia. Turns out, there is a group of settlers dubbed "The Foundation" who live in the hills and have protected their way of life since the Civil War. Wrong Turn thus becomes more than a generic horror film in that it asks viewers to decide for themselves who the antagonists are; the answer is not exactly a given.
A group of diverse, "woke" friends, including Jen (Charlotte Vega) and boyfriend Darius (Again Bradley), Milla (Emma Dumont), Adam (Dylan McTee) and couple Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela), travel through Virginia to hike the Appalachian Trial. The group irritates a pack of local hillbillies in a bar, and a particularly backwoods-looking man (Tim de Zarn, who viewers will recognize from horror films like Cabin in the Woods) warns them about exploring the nearby mountains. The friends do not listen, of course, and set out the next morning, quickly deviating from the trail to find hidden treasures lost to time. Chaos ensues when a falling tree trunk tumbles down a hill into the group, and the friends realize after camping that night that their cell phones are missing. Soon, Adam stumbles into a trap and is pulled into an underground pit, and Jen later sees several men, dressed in furs and animal skulls, carrying him away like killed prey. The group's response then triggers an ugly confrontation with the Foundation and its leader, Venable (Bill Sage), in their nearby community.
The film is interesting in that it creates a sense of foreboding for these characters even before they begin hiking. They're actually not annoying, spoiled yuppies, but the townsfolk do not seem to enjoy their company. In a timely examination of the culture clash we are seeing across the country, folks with different ideals and life experience come head to head in hometown USA. What makes Wrong Turn more interesting, is that it kind of throws these initial stereotypes out the window. I do not want to dive too deeply into spoiler territory, but looks are sometimes deceiving and characters behave in unexpected ways. When Jen and her friends are brought before Venable and accused of crimes against his society, it is initially easy to decry the process as ridiculous, brutal and corrupt. But the more the movie dives into this society and the more it questions viewers about what an autonomous group of settlers have the right to demand on their land, the more the lines between hero and villain blur.
The movie tells two parallel stories: The confrontation between settlers and friends and the hunt to find them by Jen's father, Scott (Matthew Modine), who comes to the small town and enlists some locals to help him search the woods. There is plenty of tension here as the group is stalked, or simply watched, depending on how you view it, by the Foundation, and, while Wrong Turn does not rely on nonstop gore, there are a couple of nifty sequences of carnage for horror fans. Viewers expecting or wanting a straight reboot of the original or a continuation of the cannibal-terror plot lines of earlier films may be disappointed. I welcome this new storyline, as Wrong Turn actually brings something interesting to the table that might provoke a conversation or two, which is a rarity for a horror film. While the supporting characters are not particularly developed, the film spends enough time with Jen, Scott and Venable that you begin to understand their backstories and motivations. The acting from these three leads is strong, as is Nelson's direction. I was surprised to see the film clocks in at a robust 109 minutes, as it moves nimbly from the opening scene. In a period with few new releases, and even fewer good ones, Wrong Turn is a welcome reboot that should please genre fans.
Lionsgate distributes the film for home viewing with a solid 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image that appears to come from a digital source. Fine-object detail is abundant; as is texture on fabrics and locations. The film's color scheme changes from woodsy greens and browns to tans and reds once with the Foundation, and the color saturation is excellent throughout. Black levels are generally good, with abundant shadow detail and minimal crush. Wide shots are clear and detailed, and highlights appear natural. There is some digital noise in a few shots, and I did notice a few of the gorier scenes appear to be a bit softer, likely to improve on lower-budget effects.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is very robust, and provides Wrong Turn with some excellent environmental and action effects. Much of the film's terror comes from stalking in the woods, and the track is completely immersive, allowing footsteps to roam about the sound field, twigs to break behind viewers, and haunting cries to waft from all corners of the mix. Dialogue is crystal clear and nicely balanced with effects and score, and I noticed no issues with crowding or distortion. The LFE jumps in when called upon, and this mix gives a nice, theatrical listening experience. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release includes a digital copy. The case is wrapped in a slipcover. A decent number of bonus features are included: You get an Audio Commentary by Director Mike P. Nelson in which the director provides upbeat, interesting information about the project; Monsters Among Us: The Making of Wrong Turn (27:25/HD) offers a look at the production and includes cast interviews; Wrong Turn: Promotional Trailer (3:35/HD) was made during the shoot and offers some brief interviews; and the six Deleted/Extended Scenes (7:09/HD) are not particularly memorable.
This 2021 Wrong Turn is more than a simple reboot of the franchise; it trades murderous cannibals for a different kind of antagonist, and the conflict is more grey than black and white. The film is nicely acted and directed, and offers an interesting storyline and some strong tension. Lionsgate's Blu-ray offers good picture and sound and a couple of interesting bonus features. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.