“We are one body working together”: Terrors of the Nation State in WRONG TURN (2021)

Wrong Turn. 2021.
Directed by Mike P. Nelson. Screenplay by Alan B. McElroy.
Starring Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage, Emma Dumont, Dylan McTee, Daisy Head, & Matthew Modine.

Constantin Film

Rated R / 109 minutes
Horror / Thriller


DISCLAIMER: The following essay contains significant spoilers!

Father Son Holy Gore - Wrong Turn - Tree CrownAs a fan of the original Wrong Turn, and a couple of its sequels, as well as a general lover of backwoods horror, I looked forward to seeing the reboot. Many are disappointed in the new direction. Others just didn’t enjoy it, regardless of the changes from the original franchise. I loved it. The story was updated for the 21st century, and plays off the idea of urban people going into the rural with judgements about those who live outside the city, further complicating this with a dark, twisting plot.

The new Wrong Turn starts off with Scott (Matthew Modine) searching for his daughter Jen (Charlotte Vega), who’s been missing for a month and a half after heading to hike the Appalachian Trail. He realises the small town where Jen was last seen is beyond secretive, and the surrounding woods holds most of those secrets. After a while, he discovers his daughter and her friends have been taken by a mysterious community of people who’ve lived in the mountains in the Appalachians for hundreds of years.
Can Scott actually find his daughter again? And even if he does, will she ever be the same?

This fresh update—including characters of colour and gay characters acknowledging a Trump era social climate in certain areas of America’s South—is a nice touch that takes this reboot in new directions rather than rehashing tired inbred cannibal tropes from the original. Alan B. McElroy’s screenplay also touches on many complicated, complex issues of community and culture. I consider myself a Marxist—cue the chuds eye-rolling—and part of the film explores interesting sociopolitical ideas about how people view community, specifically the relationship between community and work. The characters who stumble into the Appalachians and onto the mountain community find themselves lost in an American space where only those who can work and contribute seem to survive, where difference is obliterated and only the strength of the community matters. What Wrong Turn does best is illustrate how often those who want to create their own new, separate society from the rest of the world wind up creating a more barbaric state of being, and that seeing community or nation as a single body erases the humanity and lived experiences of individuals.
Father Son Holy Gore - Wrong Turn - Three Skull MaskOne of the more compelling aspects of the reboot is how the film, up to a certain point, plays with the audience’s conception of who really is the villain. The group of young people hiking the Appalachian Trail are immediately dismissive of the entire town where they stay before their hike. Although there are indeed Confederate flags here and there, Adam (Dylan McTee) seems to judge everybody as “rednecks” and “white trash hillbillies.” Though the town is definitely portrayed as xenophobic with a cop earlier questioning Scott about “the black fella” in a photo with Jen, and a man in the bar raging against “goddamn hipster freaks” and “yuppies,” albeit after Adam causes a small scene with rude comments. Nevertheless, it’s the young group of hikers, largely due to Adam, who come off as the villains early in the film before coming face-to-face with the Foundation. In a scene midway through, Adam murders one of the Foundation’s members assuming they were going to kill him, when he was actually being transported to safety after being found hurt. The irony is, moments later, one of the group exclaims: “These are clearly not good people.”
Typical Americans: invade someone else’s land, kill them, then victim blame. Worked for George Bush Jr!

Perhaps the most interesting part of the breakdown after Adam murders a Foundation member is when Darius (Adain Bradley) yells “Speak English!” at one of the mountain people. Another staggering moment that casts these young people in a villainous light. The line reflects a casual nationalism, combined with racism, so many supposed liberals evoke, particularly in times of frustration when their true colours show and they reveal their own prejudices. Even a seemingly progressive Black man like Darius resorts to this kind of rhetoric here. Adam then says the man he killed looks “like a fucking animal,” and Darius agrees. Their millennial views of America only extend so far, to those who look and sound like them. The xenophobia crossing racial lines here with Adam and Darius is profound. It encompasses so much about the current state of America—a country in which white nationalism and heterosexism has risen drastically in the past decade alone, yet politicians and many social/political influencers still have non-white, non-straight supporters who toe the oppressive party line for them.Father Son Holy Gore - Wrong Turn - Crushed

“Everyone works, everyone shares.”

Father Son Holy Gore - Wrong Turn - Bill Sage as VenableThe Foundation’s backwoods community has identifiable white and non-white members. Venable (Bill Sage)—the leader of the Foundation—is a white man. He announces the multiculturalism of his community as if bragging. Same tactics a person like Trump will use, pointing out Black friends and Latino supporters like it’s meant to erase all the rest of his racism and fascism. Let’s not forget: people like Trump, similar to Venable in the film, do have supporters who are not white. This complicates our often reductionist view of politics as cut and dry good v. evil because we want to put every bit of blame in one place, ignoring many of the intersectional issues in society such as class, gender, and race that make social life and politics so complicated.
It’s of particular interest that the Foundation members live lives similar to the tribal life of certain Indigenous cultures while they claim to be the real Americans, uncorrupted by an urban landscape or modern living. The plaque found on the Civil War fort in the woods, around where the Foundation have built their community, reads: “… And the True and Honest Foundation of a Blessed and Ideal America.” This community has been around since before even the days of the Civil War, so their roots go back to and connect with the slave trade. Worth noting that the Betsy Ross flag is partly imprinted on the plaque itself, too. European settlers tried to wipe Native Americans off the face of the Earth, creating modern (white) American culture through colonisation. Now, some of them are unhappy with what they’ve created through sheer destruction, brutal violence, and the erasure of so many Indigenous ways of life. Why am I bringing this up? The film’s tagline, seen on the main poster, is: “This land is their land.” The song from which this tagline is derived is “This Land is Your Land,” which might as well be White America’s national anthem. It erases the historical violent disruption of Indigenous cultures caused by the Europeans and settler colonialism. The Foundation act as if they’re a better society, when they’ve actually grown from the roots of the worst parts of American society, all the while convincing themselves otherwise.

Venable boasts that their community contains all “races and creeds,” yet they all seem to speak a form of Nordic language and their culture appears uniform. We don’t see any different expressions of different cultures within the Foundation. They’re all the same, regardless of colour, and this reflects the ‘I don’t see colour’ rhetoric used by white people who want to seem non-racist while simultaneously ignoring the lived experiences of other races. We can see this directly expressed in the film through Darius. He essentially loses himself and his identity in the community because of his own ideas about community and work; he’s longed for a place where everyone works, everyone contributes, and everyone benefits. But what about those who can’t work? We don’t see anybody with a disability or clear mental health issue in the Foundation. Are those who are unable to work shunned? Killed? During a sequence late in the film where Jen and her father escape, they have to go through the cave where people are imprisoned with their eyes burned out, we actually see a man with only one leg, highly suggestive that if you can’t work, for whatever reason, you’re tossed into the pit of darkness. If we consider this, Darius and the Foundations’s views of community border on fascism, and they’re closer to a ‘survival of the fittest’ ideology, similar to how communist and socialist ideals were warped by dictatorship in the Soviet Union. And just like the Soviet Union, the Foundation have turned their neck of the woods into a place that feigns socialist ideals but in reality conceals aspects of capitalism.

While Wrong Turn does a lot to subvert the original and adds its own twist, it sticks with certainly traditional slasher-styles tropes, such as the idea of a Final Girl. Jen takes on that role, but she also takes on a further role as the only character to disrupt Venable’s patriarchal community. She becomes an incubator, essentially, after offering herself up to Venable to save herself from capital punishment. Her form of work is then childbirth, framing the physical female body in capitalist terms. But ultimately Jen refuses to be part of this patriarchal backwoods economy. She not only flees with a child in her belly, she murders Venable when he comes to take her back to the Appalachians, escaping again; this time with one of the Foundation’s female children. This Final GirlWoman not only kills the main villain, she strikes a blow against the toxic values he upheld.
Father Son Holy Gore - Wrong Turn - The Final WomanTo each their own: I adored the new Wrong Turn. The point of a reboot is to reboot things, to give films a fresh face. A remake is its own beast, often trying to capture important elements of the original while telling its own story. A reboot should be exactly what Wrong Turn is, in that this film takes the basic concept of the original—a group gets killed in the backwoods by horrible people—and goes in a unique direction that separates itself from the original. The inbred cannibals of 2003’s Wrong Turn and subsequent films were gross fun and super creepy, but the overall trend of these types of characters is played out. This new film isn’t for everyone. That doesn’t mean there isn’t merit in trying to do something new instead of just rehashing everything old.

Wrong Turn also holds so much thematic weight beneath the surface. The social and political work of the plot comes along at an opportune time. The movie was shot while Trump was still in office, and it’s been released after Biden was elected. McElroy’s screenplay feels very conscious of the current American zeitgeist through the Foundation and their way of life, though above all in how it portrays the hikers and their unique brand of millennial xenophobia. What this new reboot does is remove the inbred cannibal mutants who caused all the horror of the original franchise, replacing them with a backwoods society populated by normal people with unsettling ideas. Because the true terrors of America aren’t fictitious cannibals lurking in the deepest forests of Virginia, they’re real flesh and blood Americans perpetuating ideologies that affect the disadvantaged and underprivileged every single day.

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