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Wrong Turn

Sadly, Wrong Turn, the latest killers in the woods pic, was not screened for critics and therefore will never be given a fair break. The picture is a bare-bones and gristle genre piece that does exactly what it needs to while not breaking any ground - and that's just fine for hot summer months filled with too much money and not enough entertainment.

The picture starts in the West Virginia wilderness with the obligatory kill sequence which just serves to set our genre selection dial. Not a great scene, but it tells us we've entered the slasher world. Not a horror world. Not a supernatural thriller world. The world of the most neglected middle child of any genre family: The slasher.

Once our calibration is complete, we watch a title sequence montage about missing people and inbreeding and then check in with Chris Finn (Desmond Harrington), a young doctor late for an important job interview.

When an accident closes the freeway Chris turns his Mustang around and takes a dirt road into the woods that should get him around the logjam. Of course, that change of direction is a Wrong Turn.

Speeding along the dirt road, director Rob Schmidt shows why he's going to make this movie work and why he should keep working in the genre for awhile. Chris is distracted by a skipping CD, and then a dropped CD, then he checks his hair, then he checks his rear view mirror. The scene goes on just a little too long, which is how a sting scare has to work.

The second the CD skips we know that Chris' distraction will spell disaster for him; the question is when. That is the core of suspense and Schmidt does it well. He has the discipline to wait just long enough to allow the audience to unclench from its initial sense of the impending scare. As soon as we relax, the sting must strike, and Schmidt's timing is impeccable.

Chris's Mustang slams into a mountain-bike laden SUV stopped in the middle of the road. From this accident we meet five young adults; stoner couple Evan and Francine, newly engaged Scott and Carly, and newly-single nature lover Jessie (Eliza Dushku). With both vehicles out of commission and no phones, four of them hoof it leaving the burners behind.

What comes next is a well-crafted thrill ride better than any we've seen in a long time. Characters are never asked to do something illogical. When they come across a creepy shack after finding that their road out is a dead end they stop and argue the pros and cons of going in, not just blindly barging in like so many others in the same situation.

In fact, everything is handled with as much seriousness and realism as a slasher picture about good looking 20-somethings being stalked by hideously mutated inbred hillbillies can be. Entering the shanty is the start of one of the most intense tension sequences on this side of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Chris and Jessie cower under a bed while the backwoods butchers hack up one of their friend's corpses. The scene goes on and on while we're left on the hook to squirm.

A lesser film, like most of slasher and slasher-lite pictures of the post-Scream years, would riddle these tension builders with pop-culture references and wacky self-reflexive humor. Thankfully, Wrong Turn has none of that. No one wisecracks while dispatching a villain.

No one recognizes the similarities of their events to those in The Final Terror or The Hills Have Eyes. And why would they? When Scott (Jeremy Sisto) reminds his traveling companions about a little movie called Deliverance, the rest of characters don't seem to even really understand what he is saying. Wrong Turn hopefully signals the return of the slasher picture dripping with blood and the end of the horror picture dripping with ironic detachment, or at least the stirring of a backlash against the Die Hard style horror flick.

Speaking of annoying ironic detachment, Buffy-girl Eliza Dushku plays her tough gal straight and shows that she has the chops to make the switch to the big screen. Resembling a pretty boy Liev Schreiber, Desmond Harrington brings a solid intensity to his young doctor, who thankfully never has to use his healing skills. Sure he wraps his injured leg at some point, but anyone could figure that one out. The rest of the cast carry themselves admirably with Jeremy Sisto really doing a standout job as the geek of the group.

Enough about the hunted, no one left A Nightmare on Elm Street talking about Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp; what about the hunters?

Let me pause by saying I have a soft spot for slasher villain credits. I love that Halloween doesn't say Nick Castle was "Michael Myers;" it credits him as "The Shape." I thrill at seeing "and Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man" and will always correct someone when they call Gillman "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." So I was tickled to see the three unnamed hillbillies credited as "Three-finger," "Saw-tooth" and "One-eye."

These three brothers/uncles/nephews/whatever have set themselves up in the woods as hunters of the upper class. Their graveyard of victims' vehicles is littered with suburban mainstays like SUVs, Volvos and car campers. These yuppie adventurers have taken one of John Denver's country roads home to where they are not welcome.

This theme is furthered through the picture as Chris is derided for being a pretty boy by a trucker, the interlopers drop disparaging redneck lines before they know they are in trouble and most tellingly, the SUV that Chris slams into belongs not to any of the kids but to the stoner girl's mom.

With Stan Winston's awesome work this trio of cannibals has some creature design that is simultaneously nothing special and breathtaking. That may sum up the entire film. The picture is nothing special, except that after a period of dormancy and misfires the slasher movie returns, not exactly with a vengeance but at very least a mild annoyance over how its name has been sullied.

What's it worth? $7.25 on a hot afternoon

Jordan Rosa

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