When you’re creating a horror franchise about teens facing cannibals in a remote location, you can’t really improve upon a winning formula. It’s kind of like ice cream—it’ll always taste good, no matter what mood you’re in. Yet, as the Wrong Turn franchise progressed, it mutated more into vanilla than cookies and cream. It’s perfectly serviceable, but your head will inevitably be turned by other appealing flavours. Even when the news of the Wrong Turn reboot arrived, along with original writer Alan McElroy’s return, it boggled the mind.
Seriously, how could McElroy inject new meat into this decaying franchise? Turns out that we should’ve just trusted the man who wrote masterpieces like Halloween 4, Spawn and The Marine in the first place.
McElroy didn’t just cut and paste his old script from Microsoft Word 98 into Final Draft and change the names of the characters. Instead, he peeled back the layers of what it was truly about. Remote location? Check. Teenagers who deserve to die? Check. Weirdos in the woods? Check.
Notice anything specific that was missing? The cannibal part.
Rather than recycle The Hills Have Eyes’elements, McElroy dug deeper into the motivations. Gone are the cannibals, making way for the Foundation—a group of mountain dwellers who turned their back on civilisation and protect their home by any means necessary.
There’s an underlying indie quality to this that immediately draws comparisons to Ari Aster’s Midsommar and Robert Eggers’ The Witch, as Wrong Turn forgoes jump scares and gore (though, it’s still there in smaller doses) in favour of psychological torment and spine-chilling considerations. You’re uneasy throughout, as you never quite know how to feel about what’s happening on screen. But there’s no cheering or booing—only an unsettling sense of dread.
More importantly, there’s no clear distinction between the heroes and villains here. Jen and her friends started the trouble here, stepping into a place they shouldn’t have in the first place. Much like that helmet-headed kid from 13 Reasons Why and his criminal friends did in Don’t Breathe, they were trespassing in someone else’s home. To make matters worse, they actually murder one of the members of the Foundation for a supposed crime they believed he committed. This isn’t Twitter—we can’t just attack people because we hate their avatars.
That being said, the Foundation isn’t a choir of angels either. You can’t just go into the woods, decide it’s your new home, and destroy anyone who happens to wander there. Simply put, there’s no place in this world for that type of colonialist attitude. As much as the Fountain claims to just want to be left alone, they’re sort of like members of Film Twitter who provoke fandoms, then play the victim when people come at them.
Rebooting a franchise is never an easy ask. If you deviate too far from what made it popular in the first place, you could alienate the original fandom entirely. Alternatively, you could rehash everything and make the audience wonder what the point was. In the case of Wrong Turn, it’s delicately balanced between what made it so delicious and a much-needed novel approach.
What’s even more interesting is how the film ended. There’s a closure and satisfaction as the credits roll, leaving you with no immediate thoughts that a sequel is on the horizon. Though, everyone knows that’s never outside the realm of possibility in Hollywood, especially if the film makes money. But if the Wrong Turn reboot is just a one-time deal, that’s OK. It came, it saw, and it creeped.