A group of photogenic twentysomethings find themselves stranded in the wilderness and pursued by a bunch of backwoods wackos determined to slaughter them in grim, inhuman ways. Sound familiar? It’s a scenario older than “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and repeated innumerable times since–most recently in “House of 1,000 Corpses.” Now it’s back in “Wrong Turn,” a miserable summer knock-off of a movie to which the only appropriate response is: “Deliverance” us! In this case the wrong turn is into the theater parking lot.
The predictable assortment of potential victims arrives in two vehicles. One is a Range Rover carrying two young, none-too-outdoor-savvy couples, Carly and Scott (Emmanuelle Chriqui and Jeremy Sisto) and Evan and Francine (Kevin Zegers and Lindy Booth), along with the obligatory solo damsel Jessie (Eliza Dushku). It’s halted on an unpaved, out-of-the-way West Virginia road when a strand of barbed wire punctures all its tires. Before the quintet can push it off to the side, it’s rammed by a Mustang convertible driven by handsome all-around he-man (and, conveniently, medic) Chris (Desmond Harrington). After a brief altercation, they join forces to search for a way out. Evan and Francine stay behind with the wreck–thus providing early fodder for the villains–while the others trek to a remote cabin, which looks as though it might have been left over from “The Evil Dead.” But the monsters here aren’t malign spirits–just a trio of local guys who appear to be the result of protracted inbreeding, and delight in attracting passersby to serve in their own private low-rent version of “Breakdown” (with a strong dose of “The Most Dangerous Game” thrown in). (Their names, according to the credits, are Three-Finger, Saw-Tooth and One-Eye. Eat your heart out, Leatherface!) Much mayhem and bloodletting ensue; there must be ample opportunity for the sort of gore effects in which producer Stan Winston specializes. Most die in elaborate set-pieces, after a good deal of stalking and last-second escapes; one couple survives, of course, in a bloody confrontation with the baddies–though, as the inevitable epilogue tells us, this might not be the end of the story! The recipe must, after all, be followed to the last jot and tittle.
There’s nothing necessarily terrible about a pure formula horror flick, of course, but this one doesn’t bring anything to the party, managing to be both tedious and repulsive. The dialogue is unremittingly lame and the situations ludicrously gruesome. The cast is of higher quality than is customary in this kind of mindless slasher-fest, but they don’t handle their chores all that well. Dushku, Chriqui, Booth and Zegers get by, but Sisto (who was recently knocked off in the wretched “Frankenstein” send-up “May”) and Harrington seem rather long in the tooth for such stuff. Technically the picture is subpar, though John Bartley’s camerawork and Elia Cmiral’s music chalk up some heavy-handed points. (To be honest, there isn’t much every the best craftsmen can do to liven up extended POV shots of movement through a forest.)
What makes “Wrong Turn” really dispiriting is that it’s such a comedown for director Rob Schmidt. I recall being impressed and moved back in the early nineties when his brilliant short film “Saturn” was submitted in competition at the USA Film Festival in Dallas; it was a powerful study of a son caring for his Alzheimer-afflicted father, technically strong and emotionally resonant. He went on to make a feature version of it in 1999, and then the intriguing if flawed “Crime and Punishment in Suburbia.” One can understand why a young fellow like Schmidt wants to demonstrate his ability to deal with Hollywood convention to further a studio career. But this dismal effort hardly shows off any skill he might possess, and in view of the promise his early work had, one can only grieve that he’s surrendered to the system so very quickly, and to so little effect: “Wrong Turn” is in the same league as “Blair Witch 2.”
Meanwhile, if you want to see something about a family of inbred ghouls that’s really scary, just check out the old “X-Files” episode called “Home.” The Pennsylvania Peacocks beat out this boring backwoods trio without breaking a sweat.