In the world of cinema, reboots and remakes can be risky business. For those not in the know, a remake is the retelling of a story with small deviations from the original film. However, reboots essentially allow filmmakers to use a franchise name while taking the story completely off the rails, either creating a glorious re-envisioning or an atrocious abomination. The latter being the case all too often, I expected this year’s first genre reboot, Wrong Turn from director Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics 2018), to be a reimagined mutated abortion, and not in the good sense of horror entertainment.
Initially sticking to a similar storyline setup by the franchise predecessors, Nelson suddenly strays far from the expected path. Whereas the six Wrong Turn installments rely on shock and awe with deadly booby traps, grotesque kills and hideous inbred cannibals (with the exception of Sadie Katz in Last Resort) Nelson develops a much more layered story. What unfolds is a riveting tale of survival that, at times, challenges stereotypes and, for a brief moment, the idea of barbarism all balanced by an intriguing backstory and character development.
Along with their four friends, Jen (Charlotte Vega: Another Me 2014) and Darius (Adain Bradley: Riverdale series) seek lodging in a Virginian town before embarking on a camping trip through the nearby Appalachian Trail. For Jen and Darius as a mixed couple and their friends Gary (Vardaan Arora: Blindspot 2015) and Luis (Adrian Favela) as a homosexual couple, this small southern town is an ominous resting spot that doesn’t appear to scream acceptance. Their “woke” friend Adam (Dylan McTee: Midnighters 2018) is quick to point this out with snap judgements that may or may not be warranted. However, Adam’s girlfriend Milla (Emma Dumont: Aquarius series) is along for the ride and reminds her significant other that real-life interaction is not the same as commenting on Reddit from the safety of his computer screen.
Setting an all-too familiar scene with naïve young adults wondering into inhospitable territory unequipped for survival, it’s easy to see the direction Wrong Turn is headed. When the suburbanites have a passive standoffish encounter with town residents at a local watering hole, it seems obvious that the franchise’s trademarked brand of stalking and murderous mayhem will ensue – after, of course, the unsuspecting group disregard a local’s warning and venture off the marked path in the Appalachian Trail. However, the film takes a startling turn when the group of hikers end up on trial following a shocking misunderstanding with dire consequences.
Although insane woodland booby traps and graphic deaths associated with the franchise are showcased, hardcore Wrong Turn fans might be disappointed by the portrayal of the inbred community. In this reboot, there are no extremely disfigured hillbillies. There are no mutants named One-Eye, Saw-Tooth or Three Finger. While these characters add a fun gimmick to previous installments, these types of visuals would have likely seemed fatuous and distracting in Nelson’s much more serious, grounded and believable vision. So, a realistic subtly approach is taken depicting the inbred individuals as slightly off in appearance and primitive wilderness survivors in character. When dressed in their camouflage hunting attire to hide their scent from prey, these mountain dwellers look like feral beasts to be feared.
Favoring complexity and substance, Nelson gives us a new story that hasn’t been told time and time again, easily making it a personal favorite in the Wrong Turn franchise. Straying from campy humor and over-the-top mutated antagonists, this reboot maintains a sense of gritty believability not found in earlier installments. Fleshed out by strong cast performances and a fitting score composed by Stephen Lukach (The Hunt, The Domestics), Wrong Turn is a multi-layered backwoods thrill-ride with several surprises along the way.