Wrong Turn

(Rob Schmidt, USA, 2003)


There are some films in which the characters simply do not matter. This is especially so of many slasher horror movies, which work on an almost mathematical principle: one by one, the misfortunate or plain-stupid victims are gorily dispatched by a lurking killer or monster.

It is useless to decry Wrong Turn as a derivative, predictable, genre movie with cardboard characters played by glamorous teen actors. It does not pretend to be anything else. What counts is the skill and verve with which it is put together and, on this level, it is the best horror movie since the similarly underrated Jeepers Creepers (2001).

Chris (Desmond Harrington) and Jessie (Eliza Dushku) head up the pack of young things who find themselves stranded in a wild countryside. The uglies who stalk them (who have names like Three Finger and Saw-Tooth) may be the result of the government's genetic experiments – this detail is jammed into the images flashing by under the credits – but their role is strictly functional: they cackle, and they kill.

This is the third film from director Rob Schmidt, whose previous Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (2000) was an ambitiously intellectual teen movie scripted by Larry Gross. Wrong Turn is clearly a craft exercise for him, and he makes the most of its pure-cinema possibilities.

What's impressive about this film is its use of nature and landscape. It totally immerses us in the thick of things, using angles and lenses cleverly to maintain our spatial disorientation. Moments of tension involving heights and distances are extremely well rendered. Every hidden rope or trap registers as a shock.

Wrong Turn is destined to quickly become DVD fodder for horror aficionados. But, in its brief moment on the big screen, it is worth savouring for its skill and panache.

© Adrian Martin August 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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