“We are never going into the woods again!”
The Scoop: 2003 R, directed by Rob Schmidt and starring Eliza Dushku, Desmond Harrington, and Emmanuelle Chriqui
Tagline: It’s the last one you’ll ever take.
Summary Capsule: Some young people find out there are worse things out in the woods than just ticks and those thorny things that get stuck in your socks and aggravate for a long time before you notice them
Kyle’s rating: This one’s for the two Nancys, both of whom would prefer worlds with more slasher dangers lurking at the fringes
Kyle’s review: Wrong Turn doesn’t get much in the way of respect, and while I can understand that (it being firmly set in the horror genre and therefore lumped in with the cinematic equivalent of inbred genetic freakazoids) it really is a shame that more people who groove to well-made and, dare I say, fun horror films aren’t more willing to give Wrong Turn a try. Because, while it doesn’t do anything super-creative or strive to distinguish itself from the rest at the possible cost of its ultimate entertainment impact (see: Cabin Fever), it does what it does quite well and with enough panache and style to be quite memorable in its own way.
What Wrong Turn does is bring out the standard “You know how the woods are scary and big and full of hiding spaces? There are freaks out there!” plot and follows it to the logical conclusion. Which is to say, after an opening scene establishing how murderous the inbred mutant freaks in the woods are and after a fairly cool title sequence that puts the fear of such genetic oddities into us (like we weren’t all scared already), a bunch of young people get lost in the woods, the freaks notice them, and then chasing and killing ensues. If nothing else it makes the desert look good, since it’s kinda flat and you can see what’s coming. Although, if you’re stranded in the desert, you’re really in trouble and there’s nowhere to go. Hmm, a vacation at home is sounding better and better all the time. Who needs the seven wonders of the world when you can get pizza delivered 24/7?
Some of the criticism of this film is that it attempts and fails to resurrect the spirit of slasher films from the 1970’s, when films aptly described with terms like “grindhouse” and “pulp” and “morally bleak and total downers” were made in spades, and some of the “better” ones are now considered classics. Ask an older horror fan which is better, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the remake, and s/he will give you a nice long and rehearsed spiel on that topic. I’m not too interested in covering that aspect, mostly because I’m not a superfan of those films, and I don’t want to get Rob Zombie mad at me. So all you really need to know is that in those 70’s horror films, the action was pretty fast, the killers were lean and mean and brutal, and even if the good guys won what they went through guaranteed them weekly psychotherapy sessions for the rest of their lives. There are footnotes like cults, a resistance to urban development, and a criticism of America’s reliance on oil (some things never change), but you’ve got the big picture with what I’ve told you.
I would disagree with the masses and say that Wrong Turn does a good job at living up to that 70’s spirit of brutality. You do have to cut horror films some slack, because the creative forces behind them are clearly motivated/inspired by what’s come before but still have to make some concessions to modern sensibilities. Which is to say, you can have brutal murders and a relentless sense of dread, but your cast needs to be largely attractive enough to each warrant their own WB sitcom (the leads should be good enough to anchor a WB hour-long drama, if they don’t already star on one) and the soundtrack should have plenty of 70’s-inspired heavy metal and hard rock poseur nonsense that’s usually just decent enough to grudgingly like.
Wrong Turn dutifully hits all those points, and raises the stakes by barely allowing glimpses of the inbred murderous freaks (ooh, high tension!), making all the good characters surprisingly likeable so you don’t want any of them to die (even Emmanuelle Chriqui, who could easily coast by on exotic good looks and one of the most perfect exposed stomachs ever, wows with charm), and moves linearly in a way that makes sense. These characters, once they realize that they’re in mortal danger, never lose sight of that fact and act accordingly. There are one or two actions they take that make sense to some (and me) and appear horribly stupid to others; in fact, the radio tower sequence seems to be a dividing line among viewers. If you think they do the right thing you’ll like the film, if you slap your forehead in disgust at their choice, you’ll walk away disappointed. Pretty neat, that; it’s like the best choose-your-own-adventures where friends would be all “man, I loved it until I to choose to dive in after the radioactive ore and that was the way to survive, because if I stayed on the boat the mutated octopus got me. How f**kin’ stupid!” (NOTE: actual conversation from Kyle’s junior high school library).
But I got a big kick out of Wrong Turn. I wasn’t expecting to, and labeled it a rental as such. After I rented it, I returned the disc and ran out to buy the movie: it’s a pretty rewarding stalked-in-the-woods film. Eliza Dushku is just incredibly hot regardless, and she essays an interesting character in Jessie: a mostly impenetrable young woman whom seems strong and designed specifically to be a horror movie heroine, yet her friends’ devotion to her and the reason they’re all out in the woods sets up an cool dichotomy. Desmond Harrington is a strong and likeable lead as a med student trying to take a backwoods shortcut to a job interview who literally runs into Eliza and friends; his quick decision-making and heroic maneuvers never stretch credibility because he just seems to ooze a “do the right thing” worldview. Good job! And the rest of the cast, including Chirqui, Jeremy Sisto, and Lindy Booth, all come across as cool and actually sell us on them being close friends, so there’s a bit more emotion in some of them getting taken down versus other horror films where the “friends” seem to have just met a week or two before.
I highly recommend Wrong Turn. I’ve been meaning to review it for over a year, but in a way it’s hard to generate a ton of enthusiasm for it. There are some horror films that just immediately provoke a response (such as Cabin Fever or Land of the Dead), and there are a rare few that are well-made and satisfying but on a pleasure level where it’s like “well, I got what I wanted, and I’ll revisit this again, but I don’t need to shout about it from the rooftops.” Yes, I’m aware how dirty that sounds, thank you.
Films like Wrong Turn and Dr. Giggles and Dracula 2000 do what they gotta do and do it well, but while I’ll recommend them enthusiastically at the video store it’s hard to find a hook to write them up about. Does that make sense? But keep in mind: good workmanship and quality over splashy thrills isn’t something to lament, it’s something to celebrate.
If you dig Friday the 13th-esque wilderness slashers, you’ll dig Wrong Turn. Plain and simple. I’ll take ten well-made horror films over one with tons of crazy ideas but a lame cast and a amateur feel to it. Well, not always, but 8 out of 10 times there’s a 60% chance that I’ll say “yes.” I hope that helps.
- In the scene when the four are running from the cabin after awaking the mountain men, Desmond Harrington broke his right ankle after landing on the opposite side of a log. This made it very difficult to shoot some of the scenes after his left leg is “shot” and he has to limp on his right leg.
- The promotion for this film was minimal due to the MPAA deeming the majority of TV Spots and Trailers “Too Intense” for the viewers. Even the commercials that were shown, were heavily trimmed.
- Eliza Dushku did a lot of her own stunts for the movie.
- Several of the cast and crew were covered in poison ivy throughout the filming of the movie, this was due to the chairs being placed in what was first thought to be a group of weeds only later to be discovered as a batch of poison oak.
- The plot is generally similar to the infamous “Home” episode of The X-Files, to the point that (Kyle) would claim this movie was actually written by those X-Files writers Glen Morgan and James Wong. But it wasn’t. It feels like it might’ve been, though, so if you liked X-Files, you’ll probably like this.
- Emmanuelle Chriqui dislocated her shoulder performing her fall through the trees. You can hear her shoulder pop on the production track in the theatrical sound mix.
- During one of the last scenes in the movie, Eliza Dushku actually set Julian Richings on fire.
- Diabolically, the movie poster for Wrong Turn has Eliza Dushku wearing a plain white wife-beater. Yet, in the film proper, her shirt actually has a symbol front and center on the chest (apparently it’s an Albanian two-headed eagle emblem). Why? Why? I don’t get it.
- Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? You should stay about halfway through, to get a little peek at the true final fate of the mountain men and how not to investigate the site of untold mass murders committed by weird inbred freaks
Rich: (while rockclimbing) Whoo! Whoo-hoo! Oh, yeah!
Halley: OK, you’re great. You got the line?
Carly: I think if you ever want to get in my pants again…
Carly: …this is the last time you use the “e” word. Okay?
Chris: Thank you, take care.
Old Man: You’re the one who’s gonna need to take care.
Jessie: Hey what’s your name?
Chris: Chris Flynn.
Jessie: You hurt Chris Flynn?
Chris: No I’m fine.
Jessie: Good, [throws a bag at Chris] ‘cause you’re the mule.
[Scott pretends to fall]
Carly: That is not funny.
Scott: Look’s who scared now… sorry.
Carly: Whatever, just get me to a motel room, run me a very hot bath and be prepared to provide me with a lot of orgasms.
[Jessie and Chris start laughing]
Chris: I think they need to be alone.
Jessie: Woah wait guys, this road isn’t on here.
Carly: That’s because we don’t have the redneck world atlas.
Chris: Let’s make this quick.
Scott: Actually, maybe we should keep walking.
Carly: What, the next house is gonna have a white picket fence?
Scott: If there is a next house.
Scott: Okay, who lives here?
Carly: I don’t know, but can you help me find the bathroom?
Scott: Baby, I think this is the bathroom.
Chris: [pulling over a branch] Can you hold this?
Chris: ’cause we’re gonna knock this f**ker outta the tree!
Evan: You know, we should’ve just taken her to New York.
Francine: No, you know how she loves this outdoors stuff.
Evan: Yeah. If you ask me, though, nature sucks.
Francine: Well, the next time she gets dumped we’ll take her to New York.
Carly: [looking at the room where the inbreds’ victims’ belongings are] God, look at this place.
Scott: Yeah, it’s like the garage sale from hell.
Carly: [trying to climb out the window] I’d rather jump than burn to death!
Evan: Okay, you guys go, and we’ll just stay here, Francine and…
Scott: And get high.
Evan: Yeah… so?
Evan: I can’t believe they called us stoners.
Francine: [smoking pot] Where did you get this?
Evan: I found it in my dad’s room, actually.
Francine: Drop your pants.
Francine: When do people always show up, Evan? What are we doing? Consider it an experiment in probability theory.
[Jessie opens her eyes after sleeping and sees one of the cannibals coming at her]
Jessie: They’re here!
[both freak out for a second]
Chris: No. No they’re not. You were dreaming.
Jessie: I wish.
Chris: C’mon, you motherf**kers. Just die.
Scott: We are never going into the woods again!
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