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Wrong Turn   B

20th Century Fox

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rob Schmidt
Writer: Alan B. McElroy
Cast: Desmond Harrington, Eliza Dushku, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Jeremy Sisto, Lindy Booth, Kevin Zegers.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Up until the final act, Wrong Turn is a taut, suspenseful, and scary throwback to backwoods horror classics like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When the film opens proper after a pretty lame pre-credits "scare" sequence, Chris (Desmond Harrington) is late for a job interview, so he takes a shortcut through a dirt road in backwoods of West Virginia and slams into a car belonging to a group of would-be campers. Nobody's hurt, but the cars are totaled, so Chris and his new friends go off in search of help and stumble upon a ramshackle cabin in the woods. Their knocks go unanswered, but they decide to let themselves in and look for a phone. One guy hesitates, though, pleading with his girlfriend not to go in: "Do I need to remind you of a movie called Deliverance?"

Luckily, Wrong Turn doesn't dip any deeper than that into self-referentiality. Nor does it immediately descend into high camp like Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. Instead, the intensity is palpable when they're forced to hide in the cabin after the inbred mutant clan pulls up outside in a tow truck (yes, all inbred families living in the boondocks have tow trucks and like to kill people). Director Rob Schmidt and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy milk this sequence for every ounce of nail-biting suspense it's worth. And it works. From here on, Wrong Turn is a hell of a ride. The requisite chases through the woods lead to some intense confrontations between the suburbanite prey and the backwoods savages. While most of the violence is shown with quick cutting, the aftermath of such violence is shown in grisly detail, courtesy of killer makeup effects by Stan Winston. Thank God they didn't try to water this one down to secure a more marketable PG-13 rating.

Unlike '70s horror staples like The Hills Have Eyes, the film lacks any insightful social commentary to make it memorable or intriguing beyond its visceral thrills. I won't knock it for that. But I will knock it for the silly final act, which reeks of studio-exec tampering and turns the two surviving characters into action heroes. Fortunately, good performances from Harrington and Eliza Dushku make it tolerable, even gripping, when Wrong Turn derails into a contrived gotta-save-the-girl climax and flashy pyrotechnics. In the end, it may lack the guts of the best '70s horror films, but for a while at least, it musters up that old gut-wrenching feeling.

Review published 05.30.2003.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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