Wrong Turn



USA 2003 : Rob SCHMIDT : 85 mins

Wrong Turn is a reasonably well-made, very straightforward, old-fashioned horror B-movie in which kids are chased through a remote forest by mountain-men freaks – products of inbreeding so extreme that grotesque genetic mutation has taken place. There is something quite refreshing about a film so utterly free of twists and gimmicks – what you see is what you get, to an almost zen-like degree of simplicity. And no-nonsense stars Desmond Harrington (from The Hole and Ghost Ship) and Eliza Dushku (Faith in TV’s Buffy) are undeniably a well-matched couple – if only because both their faces seem fixed in a permanent, perhaps even congenital frown.

Taken purely as a night-out-at-the-pictures slice of entertainment, there’s nothing wrong with Wrong Turn at all: youthful target audiences will appreciate the shocks and the laughs, which often come simultaneously – as in the set-piece visual ‘gag’ involving a woman’s mouth, an axe and a very tall tree. And of course the film is itself an inbred hybrid of previous excursions into the woods – “I need to remind you of a little movie called Deliverance” someone remarks, while Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes are only the most obvious among countless previous forbears.

But while it’s perhaps unwise to delve any deeper than the cartoonishly schlocky surface, there is something naggingly and undeniably dodgy about the presentation of the mountain-men, lazily reinforcing stereotypes that backwoods folk aren’t merely rednecks, but dangerous, grunting, slavering, mutant untermenschen – especially since Schmidt’s underrated Crime + Punishment In Suburbia paid such careful attention to society’s more marginal members.

Here the script is by Alan B McElroy, and the moral message seems to be that clean-cut American yuppie youth should not, under any circumstances, venture off the beaten track, and instead should avoid such ‘wrong turns’ by sticking to sanitised resort-type package holidays (a la The Real Cancun) where contact with the locals is kept to a minimum – and, with it, all possible risk of “mishap”. Stuck in especially dire straits, someone assures their partner “We’re gonna get married, and we are never going into the woods again!” – thus neatly encapsulating the film’s fundamental scaredy-cat conservative (family) values.

Such an ideological interpretation may of course be taking things too far. but perhaps not: after all, one of the characters does explicitly refer to the film’s West Virginia setting as “economically depressed.” These very real problems can surely only be worsened by movies like this, which seem explicitly designed to scare prospective tourists away rather than draw them in.

11th June, 2003
(seen 5th June: Showcase, Dudley)

by Neil Young