Fans of the original franchise that started with Eliza Dushku wandering off the beaten path are going to be pulled in a completely different direction with this second reboot attempt of Wrong Turn. Gone are the dated and slightly cliched cannibals that stalked the Appalachian mountains on the hunt for hot and unnecessarily horny teenagers to stick on their sandwiches. That was a product of its time trying to take from another. Released in 2003 months before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Alan B. McElroy’s horror found nightmares out in the country that weren’t too dissimilar to the Sawyer family’s activities. Instead, this new version also written by McElroy, plays on our preconceptions and provides a slightly smarter horror, chilling the spine in a very different way.

Admittedly, given the name on the tin there are going to be certain elements that will lure fans in to begin with (it’s what you’ve come for after, all). This time around, rather than a redirection down a highway, this Wrong Turn sees a group of students wanting to rough it walking along the Appalachian mountains, only for one of them getting the bright idea for a detour to see a Civil War monument. Naturally, the terrible decision quickly sends everything downhill (mainly them), as they come across all manner of snares, missteps into danger, and figures wandering in the woods that may or may not be very friendly to outsiders.

Sure it may sound like retreading over the same territory from 2003 and the iffy installments that followed, and to some degree that’s a good thing. When the panic and serious injuries start to mount up, the gore you hoped to see is effectively applied. Grisly and as full on as what came before, one particular stand-out scene sees one of our hapless travellers pinned by a runaway log that’s guaranteed to get a reaction and may even make your teeth itch. From there, the stereotypical cadavers-to-be quickly begin leaning into the formulaic archetypes that hark back to what came before. From the nervous wreck to the offensive out-of-towner that talks down to the locals, the game of ‘who’s dying first’ is well underway before things take a very surprising direction.

To go into detail about what our unlucky travellers encounter would be spoiling things, but needless to say it’s a manoeuvre ensuring that McElroy is trying to tell a much smarter story than before. Less regurgitating the fumes of The Texas Chainsaw, inbred cannibal clan, and looking more to the likes of Midsommar and The Wicker Man for the new threat. It’s a great change of pace and under the direction of Mike P. Nelson handled fairly well. Leading lady Charlotte Vega as the Wrong Turn’s new ‘final girl’ Jen is up against a much more civilised foe, which Dushku could’ve only dreamed of, allowing tension to build in a very different way. Not only that, but McElroy uses it to also make a solid statement on modern America by re-establishing a foundation on the one he built so many years ago, questioning who really is the victim in all this. With that said, when the danger does make itself known, tying everything up in a gripping and slightly gruesome finale does take its time, making you wonder if they should’ve turned back sooner.

Unlike that which came before, this Wrong Turn does find itself getting lost in its own world in the third act and doesn’t quite know how to get out of it, mainly because the final girl doesn’t have all of McElroy’s attention. Matthew Modine as Jen’s father setting out on his own search and rescue is needed for the story, but halts the overall pace of the film and route to the credits. His journey simply isn’t compelling enough, and actually interrupts Vega’s development in her character just as things get interesting. She can take care of herself Dad, stop embarrassing her in front of the mountain men!

While it may soften the final blow slightly, the route getting there is one that’s impressively handled and opens up a sequel possibility, with a whole new era of Wrong Turn you might not be opposed to seeing. For once this is a remake, regardless of its occasional bumps in the road, that is headed in the right direction.

Rating: ★★★

Saban Films released Wrong Turn On Demand, Digital, Blu-ray and DVD on February 23, 2021.