Thursday 25 February 2021

Wrong Turn (Germany/USA/UK 2021: Dir Mike P. Nelson)

The original Wrong Turn, released back in 2003, was a brisk, nasty cabin in the woods feature, a sly, dark variation on Eli Roth's Cabin Fever released around the same time, which gave rise to a series of increasingly unwelcome DTV sequels. 

Nelson's re-boot uses the 'young people missing in the Appalachians' setup as a jumping off point for something eventually quite different from what went before.

Scott (Matthew Modine) is, when the film opens, already out looking for his daughter Jennifer (Charlotte Vega) who, with her boyfriend of colour Darius (Adain Bradley) and four other chums, have gone off-grid while hiking in the area. Scott has arrived at the place where he last had contact with his daughter; it's the kind of suspicious small town where the police chief isn't that keen to file a missing persons report, and where the locals utter statements like "nature eats everything it catches".

We flash back slightly to the group's initial mountain explorations. As well as Jen and Darius's mixed race relationship, two of the other friends, Luis (Adrian Favela) and Gary (Vardaan Arora) are a gay couple; they're a group not best suited for hanging out in small US towns. "Keep to the marked trail" advises one local, "the land here can be...unforgiving." They fare little better in a local bar, where they're branded 'hipster freaks.' But when one of the barflies starts to cause trouble, accusing them of never having done a day's work in their lives, the movie's key narrative point is made; rather than ignorning his taunts, Jen reels off the decidedly 21st century jobs that the friends have; these of course mean nothing to the harasser, and the group add insult to injury when one of them, medical student Milla (Emma Dumont), makes a rather negative assessment of the bar fly's state of health. It's a pivotal moment for the audience because it's now hard to feel sympathy for this entitled bunch; and that's before the mayhem begins.

Their trek through the Appalachians results in almost immediate calamity when one of their number is crushed to death by a supposedly random tumbling tree trunk (a very good example of the spare but effective special effects provided by Kyle Roberts and the Tolin FX crew), and it's not long before the alpha male of the group, Adam (Dylan McTee) sparks off about 'white trash hillbillies' and vows revenge when he thinks that Milla has been abducted. The revenge is swift and bloody and the repercussions for the group ominous when they are captured by a technology eschewing hill community who call themselves 'The Foundation', descended from some 19th century folk who went into hiding until the Civil War had blown itself out. Jen and the survivors of her group must remain resourceful if they're to escape the clutches of the hill cult and its enigmatic leader Samuel (Chris Hahn).

"This isn't happening!" says Jen at one point, exasperated; her response is as much a reaction to the situation she finds herself in as a rejection of a scenario which doesn't fit in with her parentally nurtured world view. It's not hard to see the political inference of the situation; decent, upstanding citizens taking issue with a group of back to basic puritans who only want to make America great again. 

While the very 'on point' reworking of the basic Wrong Turn story is, in principle, a clever one, its execution remains terribly unnuanced and increasingly plodding. Some of the pacing is way off and, despite the rather overlong running time, there is little persepective given to 'The Foundation' which confuses the audience's sympathies even more. A slightly bungled, unsatisfying ending also doesn't help. But the Appalchian Ohio settings look great, and Vega and her co-stars really do make for an unlikeable group. 

Wrong Turn is released by Signature Entertainment on Digital release from 26 February and on DVD from 3 May.

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