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Wrong Turn (2003)
Director: Rob Schmidt
review by Paul Higson
First the British showed Hollywood how to do it and now the Canadians are cocking a snoop at Los Angeles horror. Did I see a few bad reviews for this earlier today? Instead I went by the simple recommendation of an American friend and hey, if it isn't a proper horror movie.
The principal complaint against this film has been the lack of original storytelling. Half a dozen young people take a booby-trapped back road and find themselves up against a clan of inbred anthropophagi, losing number, surviving and ultimately fighting back. The trailer suggested a remake of Jeff Lieberman's Just Before Dawn, but could the new film carry off Lieberman's minor thrills and sense of humour? No, it far exceeds on the thrill level and thankfully negates on the need to jest. Wrong Turn is no laughing matter, though you may have to nervously giggle in rejection of the unremitting horror and nastiness. That probably won't work.
Wrong Turn never lets up, a shock-a-minute horror ride that allows no respite, rushing you with well timed surprises while ambushing your ears with cracking sound design. The trick is to dismiss the build-up and keep the horrors coming. To our surprise we do not get used to it, the edge stays put. As demanding as a person might be for good writing, even they will settle occasionally for an ordinary plot if it is well-enough technically dressed. This is a little unfair on the writer of Wrong Turn though, for he has provided game set pieces in plenitude for the veteran exploitation film team to set to work on. The cinematography, editing and details are all praiseworthy. Every scene is perfectly framed, the action is easily followed, the colours lush and startling. There is a rhythm to the editing. This is no slapdash production, the shocks pristinely staged, delivered on cue. Even the Spaniards in the row behind had to put their conversation on hold and all that was heard from them during the last hour were mortified exclamations of 'Shit!' and 'Omigod! Don Carmody is the producer with 30 years of this periodically successful format behind him, having learned and developed it pushing into place films like Cronenberg's horror orgies Shivers (1974) and Rabid (1976), and Roger Spottiswoode's underrated triple-trick stalker flick Terror Train (1979), if you want to identify the driving force behind this vehicle.
The terrorism is inescapable. There is no flinching from the grimy and the grim. Deaths are graphic (old hands Stan Winston and Shane Mahan run the effects teams), more so is the 'food preparation'. The victims are terrified and the living conditions of the cannibal folk dreadful. They may not own the worst toilet in the world but the kitchen sink provides the most emetic of Glaswegian porcelain with heavy competition. This backwards backwoods family make Wes Craven's Hills tribe look like Oxford dons and give the Texas Chain Saw siblings a closer resemblance to chefs de cuisine.
But that is not all. When night comes, heralded by some fantastic fake scenery the film enters twilight mode, like a nightmarish fairy tale, as survivors escape a burning ranger tower and a chase ensues through the treetops. There might be contrivance, some of these kids do not bruise as much as they could for example, but Spielberg could not possibly fail to appreciate it. Like so many genre films it never knows when to let it lie and there is a final twist so late that people had to return to their seats, only to find it a cheap shot. It is too strenuous a reason to returning, the film having left us already on a character note of some small but satisfying light relief.
Wrong Turn pulls none of its punches and provides another healthy boost for the adult horror film, a genre that has been relegated to kids viewing too much of late. Wrong Turn is not one of those 12-rated horror larks that Los Angeles insists on throwing at us as thriller and scare fare. If it bills itself as a horror film and carries anything less than an 18 rating I assume it's not doing its job, so I do not go to see it. If more people followed my example perhaps we would get more films like Wrong Turn.
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