Wrong Turn

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The characters in “Wrong Turn” acknowledge the superficial resemblance between their plight and that of the characters in “Deliverance,” but they remain silent on the much richer similarities to films like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and even the recent “House of 1000 Corpses.” Unlike post-modern horror-film characters who have seen slasher movies and know how to behave, these people have only selective awareness of their pop-cultural forebears, making this a throwback to the unironic, pre-“Scream” era.

Speaking of irony, I am pleased to have just spent a lengthy paragraph discussing the evolutionary precursors to a movie about inbred cannibals who kill teens.

True to its roots, the film’s prologue delivers two hapless characters up to the unseen monsters. Thereafter, we meet six additional teens whose cars are incapacitated on a country road in West Virginia. The randy couple (Lindy Booth and Kevin Zegers), needless to say, will be the first casualties. Then it’s a crapshoot: We’re left with the in-love-but-chaste couple of Scott (Jeremy Sisto) and Carly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the brassy Jessie (Eliza Dushku), and the outsider Chris (Desmond Harrington). Chris is likable in a dour way, and if you have enjoyed Eliza Dushku in anything, you will enjoy her in this, for she plays the same character she always plays.

The villains are West Virginia hillbillies, deformed and retarded through decades of inbreeding, who routinely attack and cannibalize passing motorists. The people of West Virginia are opposed to the movie on the premise that not all West Virginians are like this, though if you have ever been to the state, you realize that argument is shaky at best. Why, I thought this was a documentary at first.

But I kid the West Virginians! Director Rob Schmidt (“Crime and Punishment in Suburbia”) knows enough about the genre not to show us the bad guys too much, nor to humanize them in any way. Further, the perfunctory script by Alan B. McElroy (“Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”), while by no means clever or original, has this going for it: The characters don’t do anything egregiously stupid or nonsensical — nor, curiously, does anyone ever say the word “cannibal.” The film gets that we get it, and doesn’t beat us over the head with it.

Some of the characters are irritating, though, and when there are only six, “some” is too many. Scott is unhumorously wry in speech, and his girlfriend Carly’s major function seems to be sobbing a lot and saying, “I can’t go on!” Fine, I say. Leave her.

Like most slasher films, “Wrong Turn” is not especially scary, though it does achieve a few moments of mild suspense. Contrary to its designs, it is often very funny in an eerie, bad-movie kind of waay. Rednecks moving nimbly through the treetops is the sort of image that will stick with you for a long time.

C- (1 hr., 24 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity, brief sexuality, a lot of gore and violence.)

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