By all accounts, Wrong Turn is a minor entry in the horror genre. On its release in 2003, the cannibal hillbilly horror Wrong Turn impressed few critics. But the familiar story of hip, young urban folk running afoul of inbred backwoods maniacs did well enough at the box office to spawn a direct-to-video franchise. And if you haven’t been paying attention, the horror remake craze has finally made its way into the early 2000s. Not surprisingly then, Wrong Turn has officially reached remake eligibility. If that makes you feel old, you’re not alone. But after a 2020 that saw most major horror releases delayed, the Wrong Turn 2021 remake is now available on VOD. While the promotional material promises a different direction for the remake, original writer Alan McElroy returned to pen the latest entry. Moreover, critics have been kinder to this new take on the material.
Six friends from the city arrive in a small Virginia town with hopes of tackling the Appalachian Trail. But the town’s local residents warn them about venturing too far into the woods. In spite of these cautions, Jen and her friends stray off the trail and inevitably stumble across a secret backwoods sect known as ‘The Foundation’. When Jen fails to return home, her father risks the same trail in hopes of finding out what happened to his daughter.
Wrong Turn 2021 Takes a Very Different Direction
If you’re a horror fan who loathes remakes, Wrong Turn 2021 will be equal parts refreshing and frustrating. Writer Alan McElroy apparently had no interest in a paint-by-numbers remake. Don’t go into this new version expecting a slasher movie either. In fact, McElroy and director Mike P Nelson (The Domestics) have more interest in making an A24-themed folk horror than anything resembling a cannibal backwoods horror flick. Yes, you’ll still find collection of earnest, hip young folk wandering the Appalachians. But Wrong Turn 2021 puts a contemporary ‘woke’ spin on his cast. Where you’ll find the most difference is in the movie’s politics and ‘villains”. Yes, you read that right – a Wrong Turn movie with politics. That is, Wrong Turn 2021 exchanges the deformed hillbilly cannibals for a secret clan who abandoned society pre-Civil War in anticipation of America’s collapse.
Yes, you read that right – a Wrong Turn movie with politics.
Here, McElroy and Nelson subvert audience expectations of the source material. If the remake’s first act reinforces culture clash stereotypes, the second act tries to get you to question who the villains are this time around. Specifically, Wrong Turn 2021 tries to shroud its horror in moral ambiguity. Like recent folk horror outings, The Apostle and Midsommar, the violence here is also less frequent and less cartoonish, but far more shocking than the 2003 original. There’s also less emphasis on jump scares and more of a focus on atmosphere and tension. For the most part, Nelson succeeds in crafting some surprisingly effective suspense. In fact, Wrong Turn 2021’s second act impresses right up until things go off the rails in the movie’s final 20 minutes or so.
Lapses in Logic and an Overstuffed Story Drag Down The Third Act
While it’s hard to believe, this remake of a guilty-pleasure hillbilly horror movie has big ideas. Too bad neither Nelson nor McElroy have a clear handle on the story they want to tell. Sometimes Wrong Turn 2021 feels like an ambiguous story about the dangers of misjudging people. Or is the movie lobbing criticisms at ‘woke identity’ politics and hipster ‘Gen Z’ers’? Occasionally, Wrong Turn 2021 feels like it’s taking a page from Eli Roth’s Green Inferno and its diss on hashtag activism. And then there are the logical lapses. If ‘The Foundation’ went into the mountains to the Civil War, why do they dress like casting rejects from Vikings? Not to mention that the ‘wrong turn’ off the main trail doesn’t venture too far into the woods. Arguably the most glaring problem is the fact that ‘The Foundation’ is pretty bad, thus undermining some of the remake’s ambiguity.
What we get is a largely generic ‘cult’ and, as a result, much of the suspense earned up to this point in the movie is lost.
Further exacerbating this problem is the lack of time we get to spend with ‘The Foundation’. Unlike the cults in The Apostle and Midsommar, we never learn much about these characters. What we get is a largely generic ‘cult’ and, as a result, much of the suspense earned up to this point in the movie is lost. Likewise, only a handful of the ‘Gen Z’ cast have few definable character traits. Fortunately, the cast as a whole acquits itself quite well. In particular, Charlotte Vega impresses in the lead role, filling in for Eliza Dushku. The always reliable Matthew Modine (Stranger Things) is around for the ride. Though he’s saddled with a rather strange character, Modine is as solid as you would expect.
Wrong Turn 2021 Exceeds Remake Expectations … Mostly
As far as remakes go, Wrong Turn proves to be something of an oddity. On the one hand, Nelson and McElroy have done exactly what you want with a remake. Rather than re-hashing the original or bogging things down with endless nostalgic call-backs. they’ve done something completely different. This is less a remake, more a re-imagining in every sense of the word. There’s plenty to like about this new vision. And there’s no shortage of ambition in the story-telling here. Unfortunately, Wrong Turn tries to do too much and, as result, pulls itself in too many directions. At just under two hours, Wrong Turn also overstays its welcome. Thought it’s a huge improvement over the franchise sequels, this contemporary re-envisioning of ‘hillbilly horror’ may struggle to find an audience.