Novelist and fiction theorist John Gardner isn’t ordinarily associated with B horror movies, but a passage from his book, “On Moral Fiction,” came to mind while I watched Rob Schmidt’s fright flick, "Wrong Turn" (IMDb listing). “Trivial art,” writes Gardner, “has no meaning or value except in the shadow of more serious art, the kind of art that beats back the monsters and, if you will, makes the world safe for triviality.” Well, “Deliverance” is the more serious art that has made the world safe for Schmidt’s triviality. Fortunately, “Wrong Turn” is up front about the debt it owes to John Boorman’s classic film. In one of the (surprisingly) few one-liners of the movie, “Deliverance” is given its due.
Okay, so you’ve cited your predecessor. You’ve got your blueprint. Now all you’ve got to do is make a good horror movie. Oops! That last one is a bit of a tall order, it turns out.
To say that I enjoyed “Wrong Turn” more than “Darkness Falls” is kind of like saying I’d rather have a tooth extracted in a dentist’s office than an unlit alley. But I would rather have a tooth extracted in a dentist’s office than an unlit alley, and I did enjoy “Wrong Turn” more than “Darkness Falls.” Here’s why:
“Wrong Turn,” despite its flaws, is conscious of some of the rules of its genre. It settles for the lowest level of jump-in-your-seat scares, but at least it delivers several of those. Hitchcockian this film is not. Whereas the Master of Suspense focused on the tension leading up to an explosion, Schmidt’s film plays more like the explosion itself: ninety minutes of quick burn. But that ends up being okay, too. It’s not as intelligent as “Friday the 13th” (I’m dead serious), or as lovingly crafted as “Madman” (I mean it), but “Wrong Turn” is generally that kind of a movie, and better than some recent attempts in the field.
Still, my biggest complaint about “Wrong Turn” is that it’s unnecessarily empty-headed. Or at least, lacking any thought-provoking grist, it becomes so dippy as to be insulting. Consciously or not, it’s empty-headed. Maybe Schmidt should be applauded for cashing in on the hillbilly stereotype before mountain folk make the list of people, entities and organizations that cannot be made fun of in any way, shape or form. But if he’d really understood the film he tries so hard to mimic, he would have seen that “Deliverance” is not cruel. It depicts cruelty. There’s a huge difference.
Too much could be made of the insulting qualities of “Wrong Turn” though. Mostly it’s just good clean (well, filthy) fun, harmless in its own way--a relaxing breath of triviality that whets the appetite for films that will go a bit further toward beating back the monsters. And besides, we probably shouldn't forget that in addition to “Deliverance” John Boorman was also partly responsible for “Exorcist II: The Heretic.” On second thought, maybe we should.
Filmfodder Grade: C-