Producers: Robert Kulzer and James Harris Director: Mike P. Nelson Screenplay: Alan McElroy Cast: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, Tim deZarn, Vardaan Arora, Adrian Favela, Rhyan Hanavan, Amy Warner and Matthew Modine Distributor: Saban Films
In 2003 Alan McElroy, a prolific writer for the screen and television whose career had begun with the screenplay for “Halloween 4,” penned an “original” script for the first “Wrong Turn,” a wretched horror movie in the line of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” in which a bunch of hapless travelers became the victims of some hillbilly maniacs. He stepped aside as other scribes produced no fewer than five sequels between 2007 and 2014, but has now returned to the scene of the crime, writing this reboot.
The main change is that the group of twenty-somethings—Jen (Charlotte Vega) and his boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley), along with two other couples—Adam (Dylan McTee) and Milla (Emma Dumont) and Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela)—arrive in a small Virginia town to begin walking the Appalachian Trail. After some not-so-pleasant interactions with the locals, they’re off, but are soon lost in the rugged terrain. An encounter with a runaway log ends in the first death as it crushes Gary.
That seems an unfortunate accident, as does the five survivors’ stumbling upon a plaque announcing the “re-foundation” of the nation by a cultish group that settled in the area back in 1859. It turns out that their descendants are still around, living a reclusive communal life in a style that resembles the Middle Ages more than the nineteenth century, with the population exhibiting varying languages and modes of dress (some go about in skins, wearing animal skulls on their heads).
When volatile wiseacre Adam, thinking them dangerous, kills one of the members of the so-called Foundation, the cultists react with fury. Milla is summarily killed and the others taken captive. The group’s leader Venable (Bill Sage) presides over their trial: Adam is executed and Luis blinded, but Jen and Darius are allowed to live as members of the cult.
Juxtaposed with this unhappy tale is the search for Jen by her understandably concerned father Scott (Matthew Modine, now handsomely gray). He eventually finds his way to The Foundation’s compound, which causes all sorts of new problems.
To be fair, the switch from redneck cannibals in the 2003 movie to this one’s oddball cult, with its own weird set of principles, is an improvement, and the relative lack of gore is also welcome; the first picture was just one of those dreary “succession of bloody killings” affairs so prevalent from the eighties on. But The Foundation’s underpinnings are never really explored, which represents a lost opportunity, though Bill Sage makes a stern cult leader. McElroy also adds a series of twists at the close—including into the final credits—that aren’t exactly credible (the “bad dream” one is particularly irksome) but at least add a dash of imagination to what’s basically a by-the-numbers plotline.
The acting, moreover, is better than average for his sort of horror flick. In addition to Sage, Vega and Bradley are surprisingly solid, and while McTee tends to overdo, Modine, a wily veteran even when confronted with inferior material, does a good job, especially in his scenes with locals like the innkeeper played by Amy Warner—though his turn here won’t make you forget his work with Kubrick in “Full Metal Jacket.” Rhyan Hanavan, incidentally, plays the obligatory feral child at The Foundation’s camp.
“Wrong Turn” is overlong at nearly two hours, but director Mike P. Nelson and editor Tom Elkins don’t allow it to dawdle too much, while Nick Junkersfeld’s cinematography and Roshelle Berliner’s production design are more than adequate, even if one might scratch his head wondering why the hidden community looks more like fourteenth-century England than the eponymous place in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.” Stephen Lukach’s background score is unremarkable.
This is hardly a good movie, but it’s better than the dreadful 2003 one, and boasts craftsmanship and acting superior to what one usually finds in these “Chainsaw” derivatives.