Wrong Turn (2021) & The Horrors of a Bad Boyfriend
Directed by: Mike P. Nelson Starring: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Matthew Modine, Bill Sage Runtime: 109 mins
*TW: Rape, section clearly marked below*
For a long time now I’ve had a fascination I couldn’t shake with the Wrong Turn franchise, and even though our relationship status has never shifted from ‘It’s Complicated’ because of their ableist portrayals of deformed cannibalistic hillpeople, multiple cast injuries and the unauthorised use of an image of a missing woman from Wexford which the family had to fight against in the Irish High Courts, when I saw the announcement that the series would be rebooted, I wanted to give it a chance. It seemed like they were going in a fresh and inoffensive direction. Baby, we’ve changed!
Horror is arguably the perfect genre for remakes and reboots because of how horror films speak to contemporary anxieties and the fact that these change so much over time and will vary from country to country. A horror reboot can give us a familiar story with a fresh relatable perspective in a very direct way which is where a lot of other reboots fall down because they just make the film again with a new cast but nothing new to say (which is also why I think American remakes of films from other countries frequently don’t work!) For me, a remake or reboot only works if it has something new to say and there are many great examples throughout the Horror genre. Look at Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we have the original in the 50s expressing fear about the consequences of McCarthyism running rampant, the spread of Communism and the Cold War and then it returned in the 70s responding to a completely different cultural context and you get a different ending thanks to the death of the Hays code. So what does Wrong Turn (2021) have to say for itself?
Wrong Turn (2021) follows Scott (Matthew Modine), a father determined to find his 20-something daughter who has gone missing. A few weeks have passed since herself (Jen, played by Charlotte Vega), her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley) and their diverse group of friends went hiking the Appalachian Trail to get a break from their techie hipster lives. Racial tension forms an undercurrent throughout, first introduced at the very open of the film by the small-town cop Scott has visited to report Jen’s disappearance. Scott shows the cop a photo of his daughter with her boyfriend Darius and the implication hangs between them that the cop suspects Darius had something to do with it because he’s black. We then flashback to Jen and her friends pulling into a sleepy town. There are repeated warnings that the land is unforgiving and cannibalistic, setting up an uneasy atmosphere which builds further when the group visit a bar filled with unfriendly locals and confederate flags. Gary asks Luis why he wouldn’t hold his hand earlier which leads the group’s mouthiest member, Adam to tell the audience that it’s understandable that both this gay interracial couple and Darius have reasons to be uncomfortable in ‘bum-fuck Virginia’ just in case we really weren’t catching on.
Fans of the Wrong Turn franchise will be happy to note that the twists and turns the films are known for are repeated here, as it turns out that the townspeople being set up as responsible for the friends’ disappearance are actually a red-herring for a secret faction called ‘The Foundation’ who took to living in the woods in the Appalachian mountains during the American Civil War, whose descendants now brutally kill anyone who ventures off the official trails, albeit within their own backwards criminal code.
Darius convinces the group to abandon the trail because there is a Civil War monument he wants to try find and through mishap and murder the friends are picked off one by one until Jen, Darius, Adam and Luis are made to stand trial with the Foundation because Adam killed one of their men. Adam is sentenced to death and the rest are to suffer a different but not much less brutal fate. Jen makes a passionate speech about Darius’ skills and how he can contribute to their society and would be much better kept unharmed as a new member of the Foundation. She lists things like his experience in non-profits building homes and developing sustainable systems, his strength and intellect. This is a risky move considering how dangerous these people have proven themselves to be, but she loves him. You can imagine then how furious I was when they ask what Jen can contribute, and the answer provided is that she’s of childbearing age. Darius doesn’t say a word. This isn’t the first time in the film we’ve seen Jen list Darius’ achievements and undermine her own (two masters degrees!) and it’s also not the first time Darius just stands by and lets her. Jen is given to the leader of the Foundation (played by Bill Sage) as his new ‘wife’ and while rape is implied repeatedly, thankfully it isn’t explicitly shown. With the help of the unfriendly townspeople from earlier, Scott, Jen’s father manages to find the Foundation and she shoots him with an arrow. She seduces the leader in order to keep him distracted and then saves her father as they both escape through the trees using her newfound resourcefulness. They encounter Darius who decides he wants to stay with the Foundation and again I was really, really bothered by this character’s portrayal. He strongly reminded me of Christian from Ari Aster’s Midsommar in his selfishness and obliviousness but to be fair to Christian, he was very much a victim at the mercy of the Swedish cult and he deserves sympathy in that regard. Darius chooses to stay not because he fears for his life or doesn’t think they will be able to get away, it’s because he feels appreciated and like he’s found the beautiful meritocracy he was describing earlier in the bar, where everyone contributes and is part of something bigger, made clear by his line “These people see me”. Darius, are you for real? These people have murdered all of your friends and repeatedly raped your girlfriend, and it is heavily implied that some other prisoners they have blinded are also being raped by other members of the Foundation. While Christian and Dani’s failing relationship in Midsommar is recognisable in its bleakness, Wrong Turn is strange in that Jen and Darius seem to have a strong relationship built on mutual respect and I don’t know if the film actually intended to undercut that or not or if they were just trying to add another cheap twist, it didn’t feel very critical in its portrayal of Darius whereas Midsommar is explicitly critical of Christian’s behaviour so it seemed a very strange and upsetting choice.
*TW: No rape mentions past this point*
While Wrong Turn (2021) left a bad taste in my mouth because of some of the issues I have discussed particularly with Darius’ character, there were elements that I did enjoy and I do think that it’s an improvement on the franchise’s previous entries. There’s a reason the woods have remained a central figure throughout human history and the setting is used to incredible affect in this film, costume designer Gina Ruiz has done an amazing job with the dehumanising, unsettling disguises covered in the skeletal remains of animals and other forest debris that the members of the Foundation wear. The traps littered throughout the Foundation’s domain are well crafted and used to great affect – you never quite know when they’re going to crop up and they’re surprising in a way that I wouldn’t have thought possible considering how the franchise has done traps to death at this point. Creepy instrumental stings are used at key moments and really contribute to the atmosphere built around the forest which is probably the film’s strongest feature. Mercifully this film has done away with the deformed inbred cannibals narrative the series is known for. However, Wrong Turn (2021) wants to draw audiences in with the promise of a newfound wokeness it fails to deliver on; there was clear contempt for these young hipster characters that they are brutally punished for which I didn’t vibe with and I also really didn’t appreciate that it’s repeatedly implied that Jen is useless (“I have two masters in Arts. So I serve coffee for a living”) and any skills she does have are attributed to men – at the start of the film she changes a tire which we’re told she was taught by her Dad and she’s learnt all her survival skills from the Foundation’s leader. The cinematography, set design and costuming are all really strong and I wish they’d been used for a better film! (2 / 5)
Available to rent or buy on Youtube.