Film

Wrong Turn (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

You keep expecting the monster to pop up and git her, and by gum, it does.


Wrong Turn

Director: Rob Schmidt
Cast: Eliza Dushku, Desmond Harrington, Jeremy Sisto, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Lindy Booth
MPAA rating: R
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-05-30

With a title like Wrong Turn, there's not really a right way for this slasher joint to go. And yet it persists, sending lithe young beauties to their gory fates, pretending as though there might be a surprise around the next corner, an event that might not be fully anticipated from every last soul in the audience. To be fair, slasher films don't typically attract viewers looking to be surprised. Consumers come with expectations -- bad behavior, bared bodies, buckets of blood -- and the more tortured the bodies and more ghoulish the kills, the more inventive the film. Or so it seems.

In Rob Schmidt's movie, though, the formula is looking especially creaky. The turn in question occurs on a dirt road, late in the day, far from a phone or cell service, in the mountains of West Virginia (whose Tourism Board should be up in arms over this rendering). Chris Finn (Desmond Harrington ) first appears barreling along in his battered Mustang. A med school graduate (a personal note he lets drop at an appropriate moment), he's trying to make an interview that is, predictably, a long ways away.

Lost and distracted (he's playing a loud rock cd and so, woe unto him), Chris slams his car into the back of a car stopped in the middle of this particular dirt road. Seems this car has hit some razor wire, carefully string across the thoroughfare. Now, neither vehicle is usable. Now, Chris and the kids in the car -- perky Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and her Xander-ish fiancé Scott (Jeremy Sisto), slightly wild Franny (Lindy Booth) and her pot-smoking pal Evan (Kevin Zegers), and, tough chick Jessie (Eliza Dushku, a.k.a. Faith) -- must set off on foot in search of assistance.

Little do they know what you know, from the film's opening scene, that just a short time before, two prettily anonymous rock climbers have been grabbed up and savaged by an raucous unseen force. This scene is mightily unsettling in the way that such scenes are in such films. That is, it establishes that there are monsters in them hills, and no one who looks good in a spandex shorts and a sports bra should be headed that way.

The unseen force soon makes itself seen, in a squad of gnarly, growly, Deliverance-inspired, Stan Winston-designed inbreds, thusly named in the credits: Three-Finger (Julian Richings), Saw-Tooth (Garry Robbins), and One-Eye (Ted Clark). This cheery threesome look the mutant products of variously recombinant genetic pools: Leatherface meets The X-Files' Peacock brothers meets The Hills Have Eyes' Jupiter meets Troma's toxic-wasted critters. They bark and howl, they carry torches at night and prefer their meat raw. In a word, these fellows are nasty.

Chris and company get this clue eventually, though first they have to split up and wander through the backwoods some, kissing, dawdling, and scaring each other in fun, all so you can squirm in your seat -- though hardly on the edge of it -- as you await the inevitable. And so: little Franny and Evan stay behind with the cars, smoke a little dope, then find themselves thrashed into pieces. Guess what happens when he wanders into the woods to pee and she follows him in, trilling, "Evan!?" Evan?" The camera takes its requisite position near her quivery face or just behind her, so you keep expecting the monster to pop up and git her, and by gum, it does.

Once these two deadmeat characters are dispatched, the gore begins in earnest, when the other four come upon a tin-roofed shack where they think -- for no discernable reason -- they'll find a phone inside. This is the Terrible Place that shows up in so many slasher films, and the spooky images (and occasional joke) are drawn from cleverer precursors like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as they traipse through the Terrible Place, coming across music boxes, jars of body parts and teeth, doll heads, and oh yes, razor wire. Gee, you think it might be time to get the heck out of there, but no, these kids have to wait until those dang inbreds come careening down the rocky driveway, towing the kids' car and hauling Franny's carcass like venison.

Eek. Now the kiddies have to hide under beds and in closets while the cretins hack away at Franny's leg and shuffle about with their large weapons exposed, until at last the kids can sneak out and make a run for it when they're spotted. Yee-ha. The inbreds like to whoop and holler as they chase their prey, a sound that echoes through the night -- because day does turn into night, of course -- so maybe you're feeling unnerved or discomfited, but more likely, you're feeling restless, like, get on with it already. The kids steal the brutes' pickup truck. The mutants come a-whooping with bows and arrows. One of the group's noble self-sacrifice leads to terrible loss of innocence. These chase-in-the-woods scenes are roaringly annoying: too incoherent to build tension and too gruesome to forget.

Cue Carly's whimpering: "I can't! I can't!" Girl, I know how you feel.

But if scaredy girl loses control ("They're coming to get you, Barbara!") Faith holds her own. (On this point, Dusku opines, "If you're going to say I'm being typecast as a woman who only plays strong roles, I can think of many other things it would be worse to be typecast as. I don't have a problem with it.") Jessie is a balls-out fighter, game even when she's got to jump out of a flaming watchtower, or gets dragged, smacked, tied to a bed, and threatened with a blade to the throat. She and Chris fight back with some ingenuity, at one point clambering around on tree limbs in order to get one of the killers (Three-Finger? could be) in position to whomp him off with a let-er-rip branch (it's weirdly reminiscent of the fabled bamboo scene in Crouching Tiger, this clambering, but with axes and grunts and not a whiff of poetry). The maneuver enrages the remaining brothers, or boyfriends, or fathers, whoever they are, and so the rest of the violence is even more brutal than what's come before. It appears that even cretins have a vengeance gene.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.