A BIT OF A TURN OFF
Wrong Turn: Foundation (18)
Review: RJ Bland
Wrong Turn is a franchise that has followed a similar pattern to so many others that have gone beyond a simple trilogy. Rob Schmidt's original did pretty well at the box office but it wasn't the obvious choice for a film series that would see a further two sequels, two prequels and now two reboots. But as is so often the case, a decent first film does not a great franchise make. Wrong Turn (2003) was quite unremarkable, sure, but it was an enjoyable backwoods slasher that was generally well received by genre fans looking for some undemanding fun. However, from there on out, things got progressively worse. Joe Lynch's follow up in 2007 offered up some laughs and some gore, but by the sixth movie (Wrong Turn: Last Resort), it had descended into low grade schlock that barely felt connected to the original. The Wrong Turn franchise had officially run out of steam and sometimes it's best just to put something so lame out of its misery. Unless you think it's worth saving that is. Well Constantin certainly did and they hired the writer of the first movie, Alan B. McElroy, to pen a reimagining of the concept. Enter, Wrong Turn: The Foundation.
Set in the same Appalachian hills as the 2003 movie, Foundation focuses on a group of hip cool young people as they head off on a cross-country vacation. The group consists of standard millennial fare; we've got an app designer, a non-profit worker, a couple who own a bistro and an art student. Oh and there's always one that's got some kind of medical background (in this case, she's an oncologist). The group intend to go hiking along the Appalachian trail and are warned by the locals not to venture off the beaten path; 'Keep to the marked trail. The land can be unforgiving'. But they obviously decide to do their own thing (bloody kids eh) and it's not long before they run into trouble. Lost and distressed, with no working mobile phones (naturally), they are forced to spend the night in the woods but if they were hoping their problems would fade away the next morning, they were sorely mistaken. Meanwhile, the father of one of the gang has become increasingly concerned that his daughter hasn't contacted him for days and heads to West Virginia to track her down...
If you're expecting a rehash of the original, you won't find it here. The only regressive hillbillies are found in the town, not in the hills themselves. For trying to do something new and different with the concept, the film deserves some recognition. It's braver to try and fundamentally change the theme and plot when rebooting a previous film or franchise. The safer option is always to do a beat by beat remake. However, the new chosen direction has to work and you can't help but feel that it's at this juncture that the creators of Foundation took a wrong turn themselves.
It's very much a film of two halves (yes, we're nicking football cliches now) and for the first forty five minutes or so, Foundation manages to quietly build up a not too shabby level of creep factor. It's this first part where the film feels most familiar to it's origins and although the characters are a little thin and it doesn't break any new ground, it nevertheless succeeds in slowly but surely ratcheting up the tension. This all peaks at a rather brilliant set piece in the woods where one of our gang meets their end (oh come on, you know that at least one of them is going to die!). In this first half, there is the clear promise of further brutality to come – and to be fair, the film doesn't baulk on that front. There are some really violent and gory moments to savour here, if you're into that kind of thing. We're guessing that if you're watching a Wrong Turn movie you probably are.
However, the mystery and sense of foreboding that Director Mike P. Nelson carefully constructs is dealt a mortal blow when the film reveals its hand at the midpoint. There's always a chance that there is going to be an initial drop-off when the big bad is revealed in any horror flick. But the it's not the disappointment that the sense of intrigue has vanished that hurts the story so much, it's quite simply that the villains here just aren't that scary. Sure, they do all sorts of horrid stuff and our group of plucky millennials are in real danger but on a basic level, they don't illicit anywhere near the same level at terror as the screaming, deformed clan of the 2003 original.
The antagonists and the political subtext that accompanies them is indeed an interesting idea in its inception. However, these characters do not feel as though they belong in a Wrong Turn movie. At times it feels more like a Midsommar spin-off – albeit without a lot of the nuance and dread. It's a shame because on a technical level, the film looks great. Cinematographer Nick Junkersfeld casts a real sense of brooding menace over the Appalachian forest and the ending, whilst completely absurd, is savagely fun. However, this still feels like a missed opportunity to reboot a franchise that had sunk so low. It's certainly better than most of its predecessors but we're not sure how interested we'd be in any more additions to this new franchise. Let's hope that there no more turns to make, perhaps just a dead end.