Saturday, February 27, 2021

WRONG TURN (2021) (Lionsgate Blu-ray Review)

Label: Lionsgate
Region Code: A
Duration: 110 Minutes 
Video: 1080p High Definition (2.39:1)
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Mike P. Nelson
Cast: Matthew Modine, Emma Dumont, Charlotte Vega, Daisy Head, Bill Sage

Relaunching a successful franchise is never gonna please everyone, either it's going to be too slavish to the original, or too removed, and there's usually no middle-ground. I personally don't hate Rob Zombie's Halloween with the same vitriol I often hear from other horror fans, but I sort of hate the The Omen remake because it's so dang slavish to the source. Back in the 80's is when they were doing remakes the right way, some have even gone onto become classics in their own right, you need look no further than John Carpenter's The Thing and The Blob, my two favorites. I even know younger folk who are not even aware those films are actually remakes, and it blows their mind when I tell them differently. None of this is a hot take, but I just wanted to point out that remakes are difficult endeavors, so temper those expectations and open up your frickin' minds. 

This brings us to Wrong Turn (2021), a remake of Wrong Turn (2003), and just as an aside, it blows my mind that the first film came out seventeen years ago! The original was about a group of twenty-somethings who run afoul of some murderous, mutant, inbred, hillbilly, cannibals in the forests of West Virginia, as did the five sequels that followed! The original film sort of ushered us back into an age of grimy hillbilly horror, harkening back to the gritty 70's and films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. They were delightfully gory and I enjoyed all six of them to varying degrees, though to be honest after part two, my favorite of the lot, they do sort of all run together in my head.

I definitely expected more of the same with this relaunch, and why wouldn't I? The six film were successful and have a substantial following, it's a tried and true formula. In a lot of ways it is more of the same, but then again, it isn't. Sure, we have a group of six twenty-somethings headed to the Virginian Appalachian Trail for a weekend getaway. We have Jen (Charlotte Vega, [REC] 3: Genesis), her boyfriend Darius (Adain Bradley, TV soap The Bold and the Beautiful), couple Milla (Emma Dumont, TV's The Gifted) and Adam (Dylan McTee, TV's Sweet/Vicious), and gay-couple Gary (Vardaan Arora) and Luis (Adrian Favela, Booksmart). It's a typical assortment of characters, and they're all fresh meat, but for what sort of grinder? 

While hiking they leave the trail and the group become hopelessly lost, when a fallen tree rolls down a hill unexpectedly smashing Gary against a tree, totally destroying his skull. It's a well executed action-horror sequence and I give the first kill high marks. Panicked and grieving for their fallen friend the other five set-up camp for the night, but in the morning they find that their cell phones have disappeared and Milla has gone missing. 

The group get a bit more panicked and when they encounter a booby trap that drags Adam down a hole into the ground. When they come across two people wearing rustic looking ghillie suits with animal skulls-masks carrying a hog-tied Adam an quick judgement is made in the heat of the moment a revived Adam bashes one of the strangers in the head with a tree branch... not just bashed, the guys head is bloodily-pulped! In the aftermath the group are taken prisoner by the strangers whom we discover are a a group of local cultists known as The Foundation. 

The Foundation are no hillbilly mutants cannibals though, straying from the formula of the previous sextuplet of films in the series we now have a pre-Civil War cult who have been living in these mountains since before the start of Civil War. They are a strict religious, multi-cultural bunch who live closed-off from the rest of the world, living off the land very much the way the early American settlers did. They hold court in subterranean chamber, lead by elder Venable (Bill Sage, We Are What We Are), to try Adam for the murder of their family member. Quickly found guilty his punishment is to die the same way he murdered the Foundation man, with his skull beaten in with a large tree branch!

As the rest of the film plays out we have the outsiders dealing with the aftermath, given the choice of joining the ranks of The Foundation and adhering to their way of life, or suffer a fate that is truly worse than death! We also have Jen's father Scott (Mathew Modine, Netflix's Stranger Things), entering the picture as he searches for his missing daughter and her friends. His inquiries initially lead nowhere but a sympathetic hotel clerk tells him about The Foundation, who are said to live in the mountains, but the local townsfolk don't like to speak of them. A group of local yokels forcefully try to dissuade him from continuing his search but the dedicated father won't relent. 

This is a remake that clearly wants to  shake thing up a bit and they certainly do, but not that much. The flick still delivers the kids who go into the woods and meet their bloody ends, with plenty of gore and horror to ensue, but the baddies this time around are not you're average hillbilly cannibal. I liked the folklore of The Foundation quite a bit, they're rednecks but their not racists or cannibals, but their code of conduct is a bit nuts the more you learn about it. The way things play out I was down with it, but the film's biggest drawback is that it is nearly two hours long, and there's no nudity. Not sure why they felt they need to drag things out, but they do. Some of the padding comes by way of an extraneous prologue involving the father that doesn't need to be there. Armchair directing this I think I could have easily excised 30-minutes of stuff here that doesn't further the plot to keep it a tight ninety-minutes. 

That's not to say I didn't have a good time with it though, I am a simple man and an even simpler backwoods slasher fan, it don't take much to please me, and Wrong Turn '21 is fun, it's just a bit long in the tooth. The cast is pretty good too, I would give special recognition to Bill Sage as the cult-leader, who is an imposing presence, and to Charlotte Vega whose character has a decent arc for a slasher flick. Additionally Daisy Head as cultist Edith is also a force to be reckoned with, and Mathew Modine as the father searching for his daughter, is good, though I feel he has a ton of scenes that could have been left on the cutting room floor and not have been missed. 

Audio/Video: Wrong Turn (2021) arrives Blu-ray from Lionsgate in 1080p HD framed in 2.39:`1 widescreen. The digital shot film looks real good, the colors are vivid, the blacks are deep and the image is sharp with good clarity. The darker scenes showcase some nice detail in the darkness  and down in the sepia-toned subterranean tunnels, and the gore looks very good in the close-ups, as does the green canopy of the forests. Check out the over eighty screenshots from the Blu-ray at the bottom of the review. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 with optional English subtitles. It's a solid mix that makes good use of the surrounds to create an atmospheric space. The single-disc release arrives in a cheapie eco-case with a single-sided sleeve of artwork. The artwork is replicated on the slipcover as well. Inside there's a code for an digital HD copy of the film. 

Extras include a audio commentary by the director, 7-minutes of non-consequential extended and deleted scenes, a half-hour making of doc with the principle cast and crew with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, and a promotional trailer for the film. 

Special Features:

- Deleted & Extended Scenes (7 min) 
- Monsters Among Us: Making Wrong Turn (27 min) 
- Wrong Turn Promotional Trailer (4 min) 
- Feature-Length Audio Commentary with Director Mike P. Nelson

Director Mike P. Nelson (The Domestics) did solid work re-imagining the series without rewriting the playbook, as did screenwriter Alan McElroy, who also wrote the original  Wrong Turn (2003). They gave us the teens in the woods slasher we love, changed it up a bit, with some solid gore and a new group of baddies that I thought were pretty cool. Watching this for the second time today I was reminded a bit of an underseen backwoods slasher that doesn't get enough mentions, that was The Shrine (2010), and you should check it out. Wrong Turn '21 is not rewriting the backwoods slasher manual by any means but it's a solid, gory entry with plenty of action, I give this a thumbs up! 

Screenshot from the Lionsgate Blu-ray: