Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
Taking its cue from such down-and-dirty '70s horror films as 1974's
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and 1977's "The Hills Have Eyes," "Wrong
Turn" is a grisly, effective little number that wisely does not bog
itself down with needlessly overplotted exposition and last-minute
story twists. If it does not as closely capture the look and feel
of those aforementioned cult classics the way 2003's "House of 1000
Corpses" did, it is still a tense and frightful good time. Tautly
directed by Rob Schmidt (2000's "Crime and Punishment in Suburbia")
and written with clear knowledge of the backwoods slasher genre by
Alan McElroy (2002's "Ecks vs. Sever"), "Wrong Turn" is simple, straightforward,
and reaches squarely for the jugular of all horror fans. All others need not apply.
On his way to Raleigh, N.C., for a job interview, Chris Finn (Desmond
Harrington) gets stuck in backed-up highway traffic and opts to get
around it by taking the West Virginia backroads. Before he can make
it back to the highway, he accidentally hits a van carrying a group
of would-be campers--engaged lovebirds Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui)
and Scott (Jeremy Sisto), couple Francine (Lindy Booth) and Evan (Kevin
Zegers), and Jessie (Eliza Dushku), who is just getting over a relationship.
With their van's tires flat after having run over barbed wire and
Chris' car totaled, Chris, Jessie, Carly, and Scott go to find a phone.
Unfortunately, the first house they come upon--a ramshackle cabin
in the middle of the wilderness--belongs to three grotesquely deformed inbred cannibals.
Once the twentysomething friends come face-to-face with their worst
nightmare at the 30-minute mark, "Wrong Turn" segues from its shaky
first act into a fast and scary nonstop chase picture reminiscent
of 2001's "Jeepers Creepers." As the six characters run for their
lives and are whittled down one-by-one by the deranged backwoods clan,
director Rob Schmidt does an admirable job in escalating the suspense
to an occasionally almost unbearable altitude. A setpiece involving
a looming watchtower and a daring escape across tree branches at least
100 feet in the air is easily the film's high point, ingeniously constructed
and edited. The sudden slaughter of one of the main characters in
this sequence is imaginative, gruesome, and even a little poignant--rare
for a horror movie that keeps its character development at a decided minimum.
Schmidt also knows just how to handle his three villains, keeping
them in the shadows enough so that when they are finally seen more
clearly, their visceral effect on the viewer is heavily palpable.
Kudos to producer Stan Winston's perfectly chilling makeup effects,
which are gruesome and frightening without being too exaggerated.
Other technical credits are top-notch, with the detailed production
design by Alicia Keywan (1998's "Bride of Chucky"); gritty and atmospheric
cinematography of the Ontario wilderness (posing as West Virginia)
by John S. Bartley (2002's "Eight Legged Freaks"); and memorable music
score by Elia Cmiral (2002's "They") standing out.
The cast, made up mostly of rising young actors like Eliza Dushku
(2002's "City by the Sea" and TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Desmond
Harrington (2002's "Ghost Ship"), Emmanuelle Chriqui (2001's "On the
Line"), and Jeremy Sisto (2001's "Angel Eyes" and TV's "Six Feet Under")
do their jobs professionally and with little fault outside of their
lack of depth. To be fair, if you were being chased by three hillbilly
cannibals, there probably wouldn't be too many chances for intimate
scenes of character-building. Watching the extreme physical demands
the actors have to go through is almost wrenching; the shoot was clearly
not an easy one, and it shows.
With the recent release of Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses" and
now "Wrong Turn," it is refreshing to see a clear turn in the horror
genre away from the self-referential likes of "Scream"-style efforts
and back to the sort of grimy, realistic, bloody, no-holds-barred
horror flicks of the '70s and early-'80s. Save for one reference to
1972's "Deliverance," "Wrong Turn" takes itself and the horrific situation
it puts its characters in seriously. Even when the film occasionally
does not pay off as well as it should have (as in the slightly disappointing
and too-short climax), one has to still admire the makers for what
they set out to do. And more often than not, director Rob Schmidt
does it very well. Perhaps the most resounding endorsement of "Wrong
Turn" would be to say, after viewing it, I'm most certainly not going
to be taking any road trips on the backroads of West Virginia anytime
soon. Suffice to say, camping and nature hikes through the woods are out of the question.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman