"Hello...? Someone said you were
holding auditions for the part
of Mary Jane Watson?"
By the end of Wrong Turn, we are asked to believe two impossible things: that a trio of deformed hillbillies could murder dozens of people along the same stretch of Appalachian back road without ever raising the eyebrows of local law enforcement, and that any boyfriend of Eliza Dushku's would dump her. It is this latter absurdity which brings Dushku's character face-to-face with the former; an impromptu post-breakup camping trip arranged by a quartet of her friends is supposed to cheer her up. Unfortunately for these friends (and for the audience), we're all about to experience a very bad case of campus interruptus.
Medical student Chris (Desmond Harrington) drives through West Virginia on his way to an interview in North Carolina. When an accident blocks the highway ahead, Chris steers into a cell-phone signal-free zone to take a back road. On that back road, he creams the back of the SUV belonging Jessie (Dushku) and friends. Jessie's gaggle of pals comprises Scott (Jeremy Sisto), Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Francine (Lindy Booth), and Evan (Kevin Zegers). None of the group are hurt; they were all outside of the car inspecting the damage to their tires, which were blown out by a suspicious length of barbed wire.
"Are you sure your Uncle Duke
After the usual post-auto-accident small talk, most of the group departs for civilization, leaving Francine and Evan behind to have sex and smoke pot -- which automatically marks them for grisly deaths a few scenes later. If this is starting to sound familiar, you've probably been in a room with at least one slasher film in your life. Wrong Turn clings slavishly to horror movie clichés in the same way Silicon Valley programmers cling to their afternoon lattés -- without the one, the other would have no drive. The difference is that someone might actually care about the programmer's performance.
The rest of this kill-by-the-numbers flick can be accurately plotted by horror film fans; noble acts are nearly always rewarded with painful deaths, at least until the cast of characters have been reduced to the magic number after which only the villains may die. Mid-movie escapes only last long enough for the heroes to freak out a little bit, after which a road must be blocked, or a leg must be broken, to allow the killers to make up the distance to their prey.
Somewhere in the blurry morass of scenes during which our characters run, scream, whine, and stumble about in the dark, we began to wonder what exactly Alan McElroy and Rob Schmidt (screenwriter and director, respectively) thought were the distinguishing characteristics of their movie. The villains? In-bred cannibalistic hillbilly families are hardly original -- Wes Craven did them twenty-six years ago in The Hills Have Eyes, Tobe Hooper made them iconic in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even The X-Files took a crack at them in 1996. (The one innovation here is that these baddies sneak around and lay traps like redneck ninjas, which doesn't make them particularly scarier than they were in the previous three examples of the sub-genre.) The cast of characters we're supposed to identify with? Cookie-cutter stereotypes without a single interesting line of dialogue. The story? Ha ha! You make us laugh!
"Now this is a story 'bout a
man named Jed..."
One might think that, in a film whose male leads are named Chris and Scott, we could think of something complimentary to say, but fine taste in character names hardly qualifies as a building block of cinematic excellence. Truth be told, we went to see the film on the strength of the casting of Eliza Dushku, but at least half her charm (which can in turn be divided neatly into two parts) was bound by a sports bra that must have been constructed from adamantium. Seriously, she never moved an inch. This bra is presumably the same model worn by Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda, and by Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough.
The rest of Dushku's charm (her on-screen presence) was similarly immobile, mostly because she was given few chances to display it. So much attention is paid to the supporting characters -- particularly Scott and Carly, who are engaged to be married -- that we never discover much about Jessie. Her later soliloquy, lamenting the fact that her terrific friends have been made into cannibal stew, rings particularly hollow in this light. She can't figure out why she's been spared, and frankly, neither can we. (Gee, was that a spoiler? Give us a break, kids -- her face is the only one on the movie posters. Of course she lives through the film. Well, most of it, anyway.) Luckily, when it comes to actors from Buffy the Vampire Slayer embarrassing themselves in feature film, Dushku is still outdone by David Boreanaz' appearance in Valentine, a slasher film with even less originality than Wrong Turn.
"I'm glad you're shooting me on
my good side."
The only other actor we particularly recognized was Jeremy Sisto, who plays Scott. Sisto is better known as Billy Chenowith from the HBO series Six Feet Under, and though Scott shares Billy's motormouth characteristics, we can't really recommend Wrong Turn on his behalf either. It is interesting, however, to note that Sisto is the second Six Feet Under alum we've seen recently in a pointless slasher picture. The other was Rainn Wilson, who plays the taciturn mortuary student Arthur on HBO, and a hapless slasher victim in the detestable House of 1000 Corpses. (Of Corpses, we can only say the Rob Zombie has watched an awful lot of '70s horror movies, and he didn't learn a damn thing from any of them.)
Seven years ago, a film called Scream dissected the conventions of the modern slasher film and ridiculed them to the nth degree. To make a slasher film in Scream's wake should have meant a certain degree of awareness of these conventions on the part of the characters or the filmmakers, hopefully both, and hopefully in such a manner as to create something interesting in the process. McElroy and Schmidt have either forgotten about Scream or they willfully ignore it, creating yet another notch in the belt of a genre from which all originality has apparently departed.