Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
When it comes to ’00s horror franchises with a startling amount of altogether forgettable entries, Wrong Turn is generally considered to be one of the best. Though that may sound as though it doesn’t deserve so much as a second thought, the first film was actually a moderate success in its day, and still enjoys some popularity today. The 2003 slasher earned a mixed reception from critics, but the franchise it spawns certainly indicates that there’s something of value in the original Wrong Turn.
It’s a relatively simple premise with a fairly straightforward setup. A man traveling alone risks a rural back road to avoid traffic, and quite literally collides with a car full of strangers, stranding them all in the middle of nowhere. Realizing all too late that they’re being hunted by deformed, inbred, and bloodthirsty cannibals, they scramble desperately to survive and reach safety.
The critical consensus on Wrong Turn is a little confusing. Generally speaking, the premise was praised, while the script and overuse of horror clichés were received less favorably. However, this really isn’t indicative of the film as a whole, for better or worse.
Wrong Turn Hits All Of The Most Important Horror Notes
In many ways, Wrong Turn‘s use of certain horror movie tropes is one of its biggest strengths. Establishing a group of people thrown together by chance and forced to survive by relying on each other makes for interesting viewing, and it’s something that the film does quite well. There’s no unnecessary diving into characters’ backstories; the information Wrong Turn gives is entirely contextual, and that makes its horror feel all the more frantic. Every character is a stranger to the audience, but the film still manages to define each individual using vague horror tropes, and that works.
Overall, there’s a general atmosphere of fear that Wrong Turn manages to conjure that’s genuinely quite impressive. The gentle chemistry of the cast may not be spectacular, but that allows the setting and the implications of the story to take center stage, and ultimately that makes the film itself more enjoyable. By making use of familiar horror clichés such as phones that don’t work and the convenient discovery of key plot points, Wrong Turn feels like a true horror movie, even if it is a little predictable.
Wrong Turn’s Best Elements Are Derivative, While Its Original Ideas Are Weak
Strangely, the critics praising Wrong Turn‘s “original” premise seem to have forgotten Deliverance. It certainly borrows heavily from the 1972 movie (it’s even briefly referenced), with a somewhat feral group of dangerous inbred predators stalking tourists through the wilds. However, though Wrong Turn borrows some of its core ideas from other movies (and leans heavily on general horror tropes), it does try to do more.
Unfortunately, this is where one of its biggest issues lies. Wrong Turn‘s depiction of an inbred family of killers seems partly borrowed from The Hills Have Eyes, but mostly just comes off as vaguely inappropriate. There are times when the antagonists feel as though they’re supposed to be as funny as they are threatening, and it gently asserts that they’re generally base and stupid in comparison to the film’s protagonists. Though it’s unlikely to actively offend anyone in particular (let’s face it, not many forest-dwelling cannibals are likely to be making complaints about their tarnished public image), it does feel a little as though Wrong Turn just decided to borrow other people’s ideas and do the bare minimum with them.
All in all, Wrong Turn is a competent if unoriginal horror movie. It builds a certain amount of fear and suspense and captures the idea of feeling trapped in the open quite well. Outside of this, however, it’s altogether unimpressive, and that’s a genuine shame. It certainly has some potential, but it just doesn’t do much with the ideas it borrowed from films with much better reputations.
Summary: Wrong Turn is unremarkable and pretty derivative, but it’s not entirely without merit. It offers some decent thrills and some good scares, and though it’s hardly groundbreaking, it’s not a complete waste of time.
Highlight: Key points of fear are broken up by weird and possibly unintentional funny moments whenever the antagonists are clearly shown, and that’s perhaps Wrong Turn‘s biggest selling point.