Much like my love for House on Haunted Hill, my love for the underrated Wrong Turn (2003) is deeply rooted in the circumstances of my personal life at the time of the film's release. I realize the film is not without flaws, but it was just what the doctor ordered a few years ago and it's had a place in my heart ever since.
See, I'd moved from the pricy east coast to the less pricy midwest in the hopes of launching a career as a freelance comic book artist. To support myself on my quest, I needed what one might call a "shitty day job". How hard can it be to find a shitty day job? Well, sometimes it can be very hard. I sent out resume after resume and application after application for weeks and weeks and never got a peep in reply. Feelings of dread rose while my bank account dwindled...I started to sell stuff on eBay in the hopes of turning a buck- including my French edition of Madonna's Sex which still bums me out to this day (That's right, people- I love Madonna and I don't care how uncool that makes me. As far as I'm concerned, she's the speedboat and everyone else is just the Go-Gos on waterskis, you dig?). I was too concerned about finances to have any fun, or even work on my art without feeling guilty. Until I had some income, I couldn't do anything.
Then along came Wrong Turn. It hit theatres moments before the huge horror renaissance we're experiencing now, when a horror film on the big screen was still a bit of a novelty, and oh, how I yearned to see it! But if I couldn't watch a DVD I already owned without feeling terrible because I should be looking for a job (yes, I felt that way day and night), then how could I possibly justify- gasp- paying to see a movie in the theatre? I was lamenting my lamentations to my mom on the phone when she simply said "Ten dollars isn't going to make any difference. Go see the movie!" With said blessing I promptly marched to the local AMC, saw Wrong Turn, and fell in love.
It's got a plot that's as old as the hills- or since the hills got eyes, anyway: a group of people get lost in the middle of nowhere and fall prey to a family of inbred cannibals (the awesomely named Three-Finger, Saw-Tooth, and One-Eye; they're like the inbred cannibal version of TLC).
Sure, it's formulaic, but writer Alan McElroy and director Rob Schmidt are smart: they stick to the fucking formula. Countless horror films have been bogged down and ultimately ruined when a simple, straightforward idea just isn't good enough for the filmmakers. The example I always point to is Jeepers Creepers: a scary man driving a scary truck living in an abandoned church and stuffing bodies down a well is a great, simple premise that has potential. When the man turns out to be a weird bat creature- a weird bat creature who only feeds once every 50 years! For...um...3 days every 50 years! And...he, like, wears a fedora! And...umm...he only eats certain body parts from certain people! And...let's run the idea into the ground completely!- then the movie becomes a ridiculous clusterfuck and loses everything that made it good in the first place.
Yup, Wrong Turn is chock full of some of my favorite horror movie tropes, from the weirdo gas station attendant to the car graveyard to the gross stinky house filled with gross stinky stuff.
That's what I like about this movie so much: it simply is what it is and it doesn't try to be anything else. The straightforward story and the decent amount of gore recall the horror films of the 1970s- it's just got that vibe about it, and it doesn't ever feel put-on or fake. That's what separates Wrong Turn from, say, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake- yeah, in the latter film the narration tells me it's set in the '70s and wow! Jessica Biel sings "Sweet Home Alabama" and they're going to a Skynyrd concert!- but the film feels every bit like a 2003 film. Wrong Turn isn't full of jump-cuts and frantic music video editing. In other words, the filmmakers don't point out how "cool" they're trying to be- they just tell the story. You know, like in the good old days, dagummit.
There are some incredibly effective scenes and sequences in Wrong Turn that prove Rob Schmidt knows a thing or two about tension: when the kids are exploring the cannibals' house and the cannibals return home and the kids have to hide and keep quiet? Oh yeah, that's good. Or how about when Scott (Jeremy Sisto) is running through the woods trying to escape and he gets pegged by some arrows? Uh huh- bring it on.
As I said earlier, Wrong Turn certainly has its flaws. The supporting characters (and the actors who play them) are far more interesting than the two leads- let's face it, Eliza Dushku (Jessie) and Desmond Harrington (Chris) have about 1.75 facial expressions between the two of them- and the main characters aren't terribly fleshed out. While the pace is fast throughout, the longer the film goes on the more preposterous it becomes: I'm thinking specifically of the tree-top battle that's like something out of Crouching Cuckoo, Hidden Nutso. The film loses steam at bit in that sequence, but it picks up again for the final showdown at Casa de Cannibals.
None of these shortcomings really detract from the film for me, however, and I still enjoy the hell out of it. There's a direct-to-DVD sequel due this fall, and you'd better believe I'll be checking it out the moment it hit shelves- and I won't even ask my mom if I can first!