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Entries in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End [2007] (1)

Monday
Apr162012

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)

The West Virginia Reality Show Massacre

Being an adult is hard, kids. If you think that growing up means combining your current boundless time and energy with the ability to drive yourself places and get fucked up on whisky and ice cream at the drop of a hat--well, sure, it can mean those things. But you just have family, jobs, errands, and homework to look forward to. That's right: homework. Especially if you want to be a movie critic who interviews filmmakers, and you don't want to show up to the chat looking like an idiot.

The best part of adult homework is squeezing it in at the weirdest possible times. While you're plopped in front of the TV with a Mountain Dew and some Algebra 2, the people paying for your house are probably at least two hours away from clocking out, and another forty-five minutes from walking through the door. For this reason, we have to do strange things, like get up at 4am on a Saturday to watch Wrong Turn 2: Dead End--without the benefit of having seen part one.

But sometimes homework can be fun; that's certainly the case with Joe Lynch's insane back-woods slasher movie about reality television contestants facing off against inbred, mutant rednecks. Maybe the eye-rolling death stare you just shot your screen is the reason this sequel went straight to DVD. It came out in 2007, a year after the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel (not the remake, the prequel to the remake). It's sad, though, because the movie is better than much of the Xeroxed crap stinking up the multiplex back then.

Three things distinguish this film from its peers: its conceit, its unconventional kill-list, and its villains (Henry Rollins really deserves his own category, but I'm trying to keep this brief*). While other horror sequels tried and failed to capture the hand-held, reality TV zeitgeist (most notoriously, Halloween Part Whatever: The One with Busta Rhymes), and future franchises would strip out the contest aspect to focus on the cult of surveillance (Paranormal Activity), Wrong Turn 2 acts as an effective satire and an inventive horror film. Lynch and screenwriters Turi Meyer and Al Septien don't skimp on either, meaning fans (or haters) of both genres may nod in recognition one minute and gag at an entrail explosion the next.

The TV show is meant to evoke a post-apocalyptic survivalist wilderness, where the players must fend for themselves against the elements, mock radiation warnings, and, of course, each other. It's not long before they realize they're sharing the woods with genuine survivalists--incestuous cannibals whose hatchet-throwing and bow-and-arrow skills set them far apart from the limping freaks we usually suffer in such movies. Though their "dialogue" is limited to grunts and snorts of varying levels of hysteria, the performers paint a real(ly twisted) portrait of kinship. The scene where the father and son mutants team up for target practice against two strung-up victims is alternately stomach-turning and touching--it's also a strong indication that the TV crew wandered into a bizarre life already in progress, rather than a nest of as-yet-unleashed stock movie killers.

Despite their drooling mystique, the cannibals aren't very compelling characters. Luckily, the main cast makes the most out of their parts' stereotype constraints. Some of this has to do with the writers' awesome decision to play with slasher film fans' ideas of who should live and who should die, but the actors blur the line between what we expect from the jock, the good girl, the rebel, and the clown. Erica Leerhsen and Aleksa Palladino, especially, form a fast bond that goes through several interesting stages during its brief life. In fact, one of the filmmakers' genius strokes is pairing and re-pairing the contestants so that we're constantly on our toes as to who is important and who is just a cool death scene waiting to happen--much like reality TV does.

Alright, let me talk about Henry Rollins for a bit. I can't tell you how far this man goes in making Wrong Turn 2 a quality slice of sadistic escapism. As the pissed-off ex-Marine host of the TV show, of course he brings physicality and an intense death-stare to the role. But his Dale character is a human being who isn't above showing a tender side to people who deserve it. When evading the experienced woodland killers, he doesn't go into Invincible Super-soldier Mode; he assesses the situation and does the best he can to help out what he sees as a group of dysfunctional but essentially decent kids. His storyline is somewhat splintered from the rest of the hunted, but he becomes a multi-dimensional hero worth rooting for.

Friends have recommended that I check out the original Wrong Turn. And from doing research for this review, I know that the sequel was not, in fact, a "Dead End": two more entries stumbled out of the radioactive slime after this one. I won't go out of my way to see any of the others, mostly because I want to let this one be special for awhile. Wrong Turn 2 is a great companion piece, I think, to The Cabin in the Woods; it's not nearly as satirical as that movie, but both films share enough brains, heart, and gusto to make them worthwhile.

Note: This movie should be of particular interest to aspiring digital effects artists. There's an arrow-through-the-head scene that deserves to be studied and taught across the globe for its perfect illustration of how to make a CG kill look utterly ridiculous. The arrow, I swear to God, floats in the scene, in a cornball bit of bad compositing I haven't seen since The Haunting of Winchester House. Amazing.

*Aside from my strange introduction, that is.