Wrong Turn 2 is available today on DVD. You can buy it through CHUD by clicking here. This review is just for the film, which I saw at a special screening as part of Screamfest LA, not for the DVD features.
Joe Lynch hasn’t reinvented horror with Wrong Turn 2. He hasn’t created some new category or sub-genre. What he has done is perfectly capture the spirit of a kind of film that I think barely got made in the first place: a certain kind of 1980s splatter movie. Think Peter Jackson’s original work. Think Sam Raimi’s early days. Think the best moments of the first few Friday the 13th movies. I’m not saying that Wrong Turn 2 is a film that’s as good as Braindead or Evil Dead 2 (it’s better than Friday 3D, though!), but they’re all living on the same shelf for sure. This is a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and isn’t afraid to have fun with its (copious) gore but also isn’t a winking, overly self-aware parody. It’s a fun movie where most of the cast get destroyed in wet, nasty and applause-producing ways.
I saw Wrong Turn 2 on the big screen tonight, an experience most people won’t have. You’re not missing much presentation-wise: Fox used a DVD to show the movie, and blown up on screen the picture quality took a hit. What you’ll be missing is something in the experience, unless you bring a bunch of your best friends over and buy a case of beer to watch the film at home. Wrong Turn 2 is the kind of movie that almost demands interaction, that cries out for people in the audience crying out. Shot as a direct to video release, Wrong Turn 2 was never hampered by MPAA worries, so Lynch gets a chance to unload everything he can; the first kill in the movie has a woman sliced in half whose guts fall out of her vagina. It’s that kind of movie.
That sort of stuff – people exploding after being hit by dynamite arrows, heads being severed, gruesome and graphic cannibalism, retard mutant incestuous sex – is often all a movie needs to be successful in the horror genre. Horror fans can be pretty forgiving: give us a couple of buckets of blood and a cool kill or two and we’ll come back with a thumbs up. It’s a function of taking so much abuse from so many bad films. What makes Wrong Turn 2 sort of special – especially as a direct to DVD sequel to a B movie – is that there’s actually a movie in here. It’s like a bonus: there’s some funny dialogue, and I didn’t hate all of the characters. Actually, I really liked quite a few of them. And anyone who has sat through a lot of horror movies knows how rare that can be – we’re often just begging for people to get killed off, and not just because we like the violence. As Wrong Turn 2 whittled down the cast I felt worried about some of the characters; of course I sort of knew who would live and who would die (although the film totally faked me out as to the fate of one character who I assumed would make it all the way to the end), but I wanted to see the doomed people make the best of it.
I have not seen Wrong Turn, but that didn’t hold me back from getting into the sequel, which apparently has only minor connections to the original. The set-up is one that’s happening more and more in horror movies searching for a reason to have a diverse cast in a secluded setting: it’s a reality show. The show is a Survivor-type program, with six contestants in a simulated post-nuclear holocaust setting living in the West Virginia woods for a week. The producers don’t realize that their perfect backwoods survivalist setting just happens to be where a tribe of cannibal inbred mutants live and hunt, though, and it doesn’t take very long for the carnage to begin.
Lynch and the writers, Smallville vets Turi Meyer and Al Septien, don’t spend a whole lot of time ‘lampooning’ the reality show craze – thank God, since that’s old news already. To their credit they actually come up with a show concept that is not only believable but something I would tune in to, but in reality it’s just an excuse to get their characters out into the woods and into danger. I can’t argue with that – Lynch knows that it’s the second act of a horror movie, the one where a lot of people get picked off, that we really come to see. He doesn’t make us wait forever to get there.
What’s really interesting about Wrong Turn 2, though, is that it doesn’t quite fall into the third act trap so many other horror movies of its ilk do. Usually by the time the third act rolls around most of the characters are dead and we’re dealing with the Survivor Girl trying to get away from and eventually kill the monster/slasher/whatever. Wrong Turn 2 enters the third act with enough characters alive to keep things interesting and to turn some expectations on their heads. The mutants are not running around stalking the survivors; they’re at home being stalked themselves. It’s a fun play on a tired formula. It also allows for some actual tension in the final moments, where in most horror films the last two reels feel like a foregone conclusion.
Wrong Turn 2 has performances that range from the decent to the very good, but there’s one performance that stands out head and shoulder above the rest. Henry Rollins plays a retired Marine Corporal who is hosting the reality show, and he gets to play with – and to – his image in ways that make his every second on screen a blast. The truth is that Rollins’ filmography is not filled with great pictures, although he’s often one of the better things in a bad movie. Last year he really impressed me in Feast by playing very against type, but in Wrong Turn 2 he’s playing to type, and then some. If this role had come a decade ago, it would have been his defining performance. As it stands it’s probably his very best, and without a doubt his most fun. Wrong Turn 2 is a movie that has a lot of cheer-worthy moments, and most of them have Rollins involved.
It’s hard to see Wrong Turn 2 as anything but yet another riff on The Hills Have Eyes, the latest entry in the ‘You Should Always Stay on the Interstate’ genre of movies. Lynch and his screenwriters have zero illusions about this, and they take the opportunity to do two things: one, they homage as many classic horror films as they can without ever getting into ‘Hey, look at this homage!’ territory (the closest they come is a scene at the family dinner table that is only missing Leatherface), and they have some fun with the mutant family. These aren’t just cannibal backwoods freaks, these are grace-saying, family structure having cannibal backwoods freaks. At one point Daddy Mutant has a contestant trapped and is about to go in for the kill when he decides to give his son the chance to shed a little blood. The young monster does his daddy proud, and it’s a scene that’s funny… but also weirdly real. The movie isn’t going out of its way to Rob Zombie up the mutant family – you’re never cheering for them – but it takes just a couple of minutes to make them something more than just boogeymen who pop up at inconvenient times.
I’m interested in seeing what Joe Lynch does next; there’s a long tracking shot at the beginning of the film, when he’s introducing the reality show contestants, that I thought was pretty audacious for DTDVD, low budget filmmaking. We’re not talking Goodfellas here, but when you’re working on a tight budget and schedule, this sort of shot can eat up a ton of time, and can come across as forced, which this shot never does. There are other great touches – a kill done in a SnorriCam shot, especially – that show that Lynch may have more up his sleeve. He’s also got a sick mind at work, and he crosses the line a couple of times in ways that few filmmakers do anymore – playfully. Direct to DVD movies are entering a weird phase that reminds me of the old days of the Roger Corman factory, where we’re seeing real talent taking their first cinematic steps by raising the standards of what might otherwise be schlock. Joe Lynch has definitely taken his first feature opportunity to turn in something much better than a reel filler; he’s grabbed this movie by the nuts and done his best with it. And his best is pretty damn good, even ignoring the DTDVD origins.
When Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja brought back a gritty, 70s-style exploitation mentality, I was on the front lines cheering them on. I like movies that make me uncomfortable, that make me feel bad to have enjoyed them. I grew up on movies like that. But I also grew up on movies that had a lighter sensibility while not skimping on the blood and gore. Wrong Turn 2 never goes into splatstick, like the mildly enjoyable Black Sheep, but it also never goes into Hostel level brutality. It may be that the best example of what Wrong Turn 2 is like would be Friday the 13th Part IV, but messier. That was the film where it felt most like Tom Savini was the star, with Jason getting second billing, and I don’t think it would be wrong to say that the mutants here (and many of the actors) are secondary to the kills. This is a movie with its heart in the right place, which is beating and bloody in somebody’s hand.