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Published June 20th, 2003 | by Adrian Mackinder

Wrong Turn Review

The most effective and disturbing horror films owe their success in part to grounding their horror not in some otherworldly, supernatural concept such as vampires or zombies; rather they create nightmarish situations from the dark recesses of our reality. Here, horror is created from man’s inhumanity to man. Prime examples of this genre at its most powerful were made in the 1970’s, from the brutal imagery of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes to the more sedate yet no less nightmarish situations examined in The Wicker Man and Deliverance. Now we are being asked to accept Wrong Turn into this canon. But the question is, does it deserve a place?

Well, on paper director Rob Schmidt’s tale of hidden monstrosity lurking in backwater America has a plot that immediately makes you recall the aforementioned ‘nightmare movies’ from the 70’s. In this instance, we have six young, attractive and civilised people caught out of their element after a car crash on a dusty back road brings them together in the depths of the West Virginian Mountains. Unfortunately for them, this wrong turn has landed them slap bang in the middle of deformed-redneck country. And it would appear that years of inbreeding has not only deprived these ‘mountain men’ of opposable thumbs, but also nurtured a habit of predatory, murderous tendencies.

What basically ensues is a fairly efficient chase thriller that neither detracts from, nor enhances the genre to which it belongs. The main reason why this film falls short of the mark is due to it’s portrayal of the mountain men themselves, a failure highlighted all the more by comparing Wrong Turn with John Boorman’s more effective Deliverance, a film which has no doubt influenced this latest offering.

The cinematography and editing of Boorman’s 1972 classic had a leisurely, documentary feel to it that enhances the very real beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and therefore by contrast, the very real terror that is the local inhabitants. Like Boorman, Schmidt strives to create a reverence for the landscape and environment in which these mountain men dwell; Wrong Turn is peppered with high tracking shots across acres of lush greenery, accompanied all the while by suitably atmospheric music from composer Elia Cmiral (who gave us the equally atmospheric score to 1998’s Ronin)

But Deliverance truly delivers palpable terror by showing the inbred locals who terrorised Burt Reynolds and company as convincing, ‘real’ people. You really got the impression that they had wandered straight out of the Appalachian Mountains and were simply filmed while they pursued their daily routine of rape and murder. The Mountain Men of Wrong Turn on the other hand, all look and behave more like Sloth, the monkey-faced idiot from The Goonies.

These mountain men whoop and grunt their way through the film under layers of prosthetic make up, reducing them to nothing more than fantastical monsters and therefore less terrifying. For the most part, Schmidt cleverly keeps their appearance hidden in shadow but when you do see them, they just look like men in monster suits. This may well have something to do with the fact that the film’s producer is make up and effects wizard Stan Winston and so by giving the mountain men this specific look, his team had something to do, but he seems to have forgotten the old maxim ‘less is more’.

Still, Schmidt demonstrates an ability to create palpable tension, particularly in a scene where the group try and escape from the mountain men’s tin shack dwelling. There are some genuinely scary moments that, while not being very originally executed, will still make you jump. The set pieces are satisfying and suitably tense, the central performances and script are solid enough and the whole thing moves along at a fair old pace, from the Se7en-inspired title credits to the blazing inferno of a climax. Also, horror aficionados may enjoy spotting within the film certain elements that were common in 1970’s horror films, particularly the message that if you indulge in sex and drugs you will die horribly at the hands of a maniac. Good advice for all the kids there.

So a competent action thriller? Yes indeed. A worthy addition to the hillbilly-horror hall-of-fame? In a word, no. But if you want to see a mindless yet enjoyable romp, you could do a lot worse. Just don’t expect any fight-scenes involving banjos.

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