Wrong Turn (2003)


First published by Movie Gazette (link lost)


While Arabs and the French are, for obvious political reasons, current figures of hate in the US, in general the Hollywood of today tries hard to be kind to different ethnic groups, handling with care its representation of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and Inuit – even the British only ever play lovable rogues (or butlers, or gay men) these days. However the one group that Hollywood can always be counted on to caricature, mock and generally disrespect is the good ol’ hillbilly.

Take Wrong Turn, for example. Driving through West Virginia for an interview, medical student Chris Finn gets caught in a traffic jam. Despite a toothless warning from an old garage attendant, Chris decides to go way off the beaten track, along the heavily wooded ‘Bear Mountain Road’, where he quite literally runs into five other lost students, whose van has been put out of action by a barbed wire trap set in the road. Soon a family of mutant ‘mountain men’ is picking off those pesky kids one by one in order to put dinner on the table, leading Chris and the other survivors to confront the cannibals in one final battle.

At first Wrong Turn sets itself up to be an effective old school horror film. With its handheld shots of the students through trees or from under cars, it conveys the eerie impression that they are being watched by some unseen presence (er, actually that would be us), and in a horror cliche resuscitated from the 1970s and 1980s, the pot-smokers and fornicators get to die first.

So nothing new here, though all quite deftly handled. However, the ‘mountain men’ are fully revealed on screen far too early in the piece, so that the promising ‘unknown killer’ scenario quickly gives way to a fright-free rerun of Deliverance (and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes), with the imprudent students set against the local yokels. The latter, with their inbred grotesqueness, their lack of ordinary social graces and their inscrutable language of guttural grunts, are basically the royal family with beards – except that an axe-wielding Prince Philip might have proved scarier.

Normally Hollywood-style rednecks are motivated by brute racist hatred and/or sexual depravity. In Wrong Turn they are merely hungry. Yet I suspect that these mountain men may have had an ulterior motive for all their chopping, garrotting and maiming. Nothing, you see, quite spoils a country idyll like city folk. So, faced with the annoying urban whininess of the seven students, the natives may just have wanted a little bit of peace again. And who can blame them? The sound of the students’ screams is certainly far more satisfactory than their earlier irritating banter.

Indeed the director could learn a valuable lesson from his degenerate antagonists – sometimes it is better just to cut, cut, cut.

Anton Bitel