Woke Horror is just not sustainable…
That’s pretty much the takeaway from the Wrong Turn reboot, a reimagining scripted by Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and the writer of the first film in the franchise, Alan B. McElroy. And it’s been a question facing horror for a few years now. We’ve seen it with the second attempt at a Black Christmas remake and were subjected to the same Social Justice Warrior-dialogue in the recent Freaky. It won’t last. It cannot last.
It’s not a particularly well-loved franchise. Wrong Turn began as an Eliza Dushku-led slasher film set in the American backwoods in 2003. It was never anything original, just another in a long line of torture porn imitators before devolving in direct to DVD schlockfests. The origin of the slashers was expanded upon to the point where the backstories stopped lining up. By the last, we were left with a bizarre, barely comprehensible incest-filled cult of deformed killers. There was no real call for a reboot, especially not one that completely erases the mythology clumsily built over six films. There’s no three-finger, or sawtooth, or whatever names were in the script for the first but never uttered aloud.
Nevertheless, we’re introduced to our woke leads in largely the same fashion as we were Dushku and her doomed party; with a tire blowout on the roads of Virginia. But the blowout is quickly fixed, never addressed again. Our leads are able to fix a flat. They’re actually extraordinarily competent, as the script makes a habit of telling us.
Darius (Adain Bradley) is an African American whose work in the nonprofit sector he hopes to translate into a better world where people follow through on Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. His white girlfriend (Charlotte Vega) has two doctorates. His friends Adam (Dylan McTee) and Milla (Emma Dumont) are an app developer and an oncologist, respectively, and there’s a gay, biracial couple in tow. They head off to the mountains to hike the Appalachian Trail.
These characters, independent of each other, would make solid horror film survivors, but throwing them all in one group makes them little more than a checklist of political correctness. Of course, that’s the point. But horror was never known for its ideological purity. Just as action movies hew more rabidly conservative than a lot of people are comfortable with, horror has a reputation for a reason. And just as Billy Jack wasn’t an idea that could be carried out over a successful franchise – Social Justice Warrior action film if ever there was one – Wrong Turn is not a step the progressive filmgoer will appreciate. You don’t have to agree with a film’s politics to enjoy it.
Things go wrong very quickly when a tree log races downhill after the group. Add a few creepy locals (one of whom actually was the harbinger in Drew Goddard’s cheeky The Cabin in The Woods) and an old legend about confederates who fled society just before the Civil War, you can probably see where this is headed.
The real tragedy of the Wrong Turn reboot is that director Mike P. Nelson is quite good at delivering effective scares, even when the focus is less on the killing and more on the mangled corpses. There are some genuinely frightening moments. But it’s all in service of a fairly clumsy script that works in a frame story with the lead’s father (Mathew Modine) searching for her six weeks after.
It also basically confirms the old legend, known here as “The Foundation”, which opens the film up to some serious plot holes. The time for isolated, rural killers was before the dawn of GPS and Google Maps.
Finally, it makes an attempt to find some common ground between The Foundation’s ancient laws and Darius’ racial utopia. It’s a little more than confounding when a movie tries to reconcile the words of Martin Luther King with antebellum.
For if this is the content of your character, America is plenty doomed.