As expected, Wrong Turn has plenty of bad –ations: decapitation, mutilation, etc. But it’s got an unexpectedly fun –ation — its hillbilly variation on Panic Room, with a pulpy, gory focus.
Along with the blood and guts, Wrong Turn has a fairly palpable thriller element that clicks, particularly in the second act. By no means is it a horror triumph, but it is a significantly better tongue-in-cheek time than the disastrous — and similarly plotted — House of 1000 Corpses.
The film concerns a med-school graduate and a group of campers, thrown together by circumstance and their penchant for wearing pastels that could only signify them as city-folk.
Fresh out of school, Chris (Desmond Harrington) is on his way to a job interview in Raleigh. When a major West Virginia highway is closed, Chris takes a rural route that’s only scenic if road-kill deer and one-toothed gas station attendants is the sort of thing you’re into. Trying to change a CD, he slams into the back of a stranded Range Rover with shredded tires.
Finding evidence of foul play, Chris and the clear-headed campers (read: non-pot smoking ones) go for help. But, once left alone, the druggies are gutted by the saboteurs — a trio of grotesquely disfigured inbreeds. Ultimately, Chris and his new comrades (played by Eliza Dushku, Jeremy Sisto and Emmanuelle Chriqui) stumble into the group’s shack and themselves become targets.
There are plenty of little guilty pleasures to like in Wrong Turn. The gas-station attendant slugs generic Pepto Bismol from the bottle, a snide truck driver has a wicked sense of humor, law enforcement is dispatched and then, well, dispatched. Plus, the hillbillies are named (in the credits only) for their deformities — Saw Tooth, Three-Finger and One-Eye.
But what really turns the screws is its middle act, as Chris and friends become trapped in the hillbilly house from hell. It’s quite literally filled with remnants of past victims. Wouldn’t your reaction to a jar full of obviously human teeth be a bit more than “Ewwww”?
Still, the scene creates genuine tension, especially when the quartet must hide from the trio, now returning with the corpses of their friends. And the film’s smarts are nice, even if they are intermittent. Chris thinks to keep a hinge from squeaking during a key escape, but not that a wooden watchtower hideout could easily be set ablaze by the torch-carrying hillbillies.
It can’t quite keep that momentum through to its shotguns-and-explosions conclusion, but Wrong Turn is a fairly fun ride with some memorably macabre moments.