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Wrong Turn (Rob Schmidt, 2003)


      Rob Schmidtís Wrong Turn, the most recent in the spate of post-Blair Witch woody horror romps, is better than the average entry in the subgenre because it eschews exposition in favor of thrills. Set in a remote area in West Virginia, this monster movie follows a group of attractive teens as they are hunted by a group of seemingly inbred, redneck cannibals that remain unexplained outside of the credits sequence. The kids invoke Deliverance by name at one point, but in its stripped down narrative thrust and its level of sustained suspense, the film it most vividly recalls is Walter Hillís masterful bayou thriller Southern Comfort. Much like the fright classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wrong Turn doesnít attempt to clarify the presence or motivation of the monsters that terrorize the teens. Instead, it effectively and simply presents them as little more than a presence that needs to be escaped from. Because of this fortunate paucity of time-wasting elucidation, the majority of the film maintains the same level of queasy, rising tension that the gripping opening scenes of Jeepers Creepers did. Even though the villains of the piece appear on screen throughout, the primary lesson learned here from Blair Witch seems to be that the fear of the unknown is scarier than just about anything the screenwriters could concoct.


    Despite the seeming debt to Blair Witch, due to the copious amount of gore that Wrong Turn has, it almost seems a throwback to the days when slasher films dominated the horror genre. As a result, itís likely to prompt nostalgic pangs in those who were, like this viewer, reared on Fangoria magazine. Of course thereís not much thatís defensible in the filmís stylization and glorification of violent death, but it makes for transfixing cinema nonetheless. I canít remember the last CGI-laden epic that featured effects that affected me as much as the prosthetic gore effects (courtesy of Stan Winston) in Wrong Turn. In a market saturated with PG-13 horror spectacles, arty subversions of the genre, and foreign films that substitute tension for grisliness, the presence a straightforward approach coupled with images gruesome enough to actually disturb is refreshing. Surely Schmidtís deft direction, and not the gore alone, is to credit for the effectiveness of the film (Eli Rothís similarly bloody Cabin Fever is anemic in comparison). Even if there's nothing as fiendishly clever as in Final Destination 2, the pacing here is more consistent and the mood is better sustained. Itís only in its somewhat limp final act, in which the characters take turns hitting the monsters in the back of the head, that Wrong Turn starts to lose some of its momentum. Otherwise, itís as good a horror film as weíre likely to see this year.


* * * 


Jeremy Heilman