It will be news to most that Wrong Turn 6: Last Resort was released back in 2014. The cannibal caper was so exhausted that just one critic slated it on Rotten Tomatoes – no one else could be bothered. It appeared to be the series’ swan song, adding a final 90 minutes to what had become a slideshow of murder, with characters and narrative a total afterthought. Instead, the filmmakers explored what it looks like when you drill someone’s torso with a garden auger, or how much blood sprays when you run them over with a snow blower. For Wrong Turn 6, director Valeri Milev made his mark on the oeuvre by showing what happens when you perform a colonoscopy with a fire hose, riffing on the petrol pump meets human esophagus moment in 2011’s Inbred.
What next for a series that has done it all? To continue killing people with garden tools and heavy machinery is banal at this point. Well, after seven years of pensive thought, the people at Constantin Film decided it was time for a reboot with six New York millennials and a heavy dose of political commentary. These millennials are mixed race couple Jen (Charlotte Vega) and Darius (Adain Bradley), Adam (Dylan McTee) and his girlfriend Milla (Emma Dumont), and gay couple Luis and Gary (Adrian Favela, Vardaan Arora). Together, they leave the city for the provincial Virginia towns of the Appalachian Trail, setting the stage for a hackneyed clash of urban enlightenment and rural prejudice.
However, the first ten minutes are loaded with slurs not from beer swilling locals but from Adam, a smug app developer who delights in making facile references to slavery and the confederacy. His character raises several questions. Do the filmmakers embrace his arrogant worldview? Has Wrong Turn turned into some hectoring social drama? Happily, the answer is no, because his peers soon call him out on his crass remarks. “He’s not a dog!” exclaims Jen, after Adam tells a local to “Shoo!” away from their car, “Are you trying to piss off everyone in Middle America?” Adam is written to embody the arrogance of certain Twitterati liberals. Jen, by contrast, has all the noble trappings of a ‘final girl’. She’s respectful and empathetic towards the locals, but she’s not afraid to speak her mind when a hostile good old boy accuses them of ‘not working a day in their lives’.
All of this is a stark departure for the series. It may be familiar ground, but the performances are naturalistic and only improve under tension, especially when tragedy strikes in a scene that involves a tree trunk and someone’s head. However, it is the low standard of its predecessors that cause it to impress. Without that context, it would be pretty middling stuff. Then, at about 50 minutes in, Wrong Turn goes from middling to just plain silly as the group stumbles upon a Neolithic commune dressed in animal skins, living in hunts and speaking with Germanic accents.
Led by John Venable (an amusingly earnest Bill Sage), the cult practices its own micro-society, using brutal kangaroo courts to implement its laws of honour, loyalty and eye-for-an-eye justice. We’re supposed to believe that this violent clan has lived off the Appalachian Trail for 170 years, which lacks credibility even in the world of Wrong Turn, especially when the opening makes such effort to be affecting and realistic.
The main problem here is aesthetics. A horror film about a 19th century Waco clan could provide all sorts of genre fun, but dressing them up as warriors from Games of Thrones is not only silly but also dull and unimaginative. We’re told that the group formed in response to the Civil War era, so this should have been reflected in a distinctly American commune that actually adheres to the values of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Alas, the Neolithic claptrap causes such a seismic shift in tone that no amount of bloodletting can save it.