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 Flynn (Desmond Harrington) gets stuck in backed-up highway traffic and opts to bypass it by taking the backroads of West Virginia. Before he can make it back to the highway, he accidentally hits a van carrying a group of would-be campersengaged 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 flattened 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 upona ramshackle cabin in the middle of the wildernessbelongs to three grotesquely deformed inbred cannibals. Don't you hate when that happens?
Once the twenty-something 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 poignantrare 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.