The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was for the “Sequelitis” column of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
With Sequelitis, we strive to review all those odd, direct-to-video sequels of 20-year-old films. You know the ones: Low budget, unrecognizable cast, only tangentially related to the film it claims to follow? Do they hold a candle to the original, or do they reek of a distributor money-making ploy?
I watch too many horror movies. It’s a personal weakness, and one that often leads me into films of questionable taste. This, of course, is a nice way of saying I watch a lot of films that are utter crap. Despite the low odds of catching a winner, I stick with the genre and its many subcategories. Among the more grotesque and infamous subcategories are the cannibal films. Often they exist merely to shock and disgust the viewer. A good story, decent acting, competent directing, or even scares are less important than numerous scenes of people being gutted and dismembered in preparation for the frying pan. Overall, it’s one of my least favorite subcategories of the horror genre, often leaving me cold and thankful that I’m a vegetarian. In many ways, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is the prototypical lazy, disgusting cannibal film.
The first Wrong Turn was a decent horror film. It had a good cast (Eliza Dushku, Desmond Harrington, Jeremy Sisto), a director (Rob Schmidt) who knew his craft and delivered some good scares, and one of the niftiest decapitations in screen history. It was no Texas Chainsaw Massacre (I feel the need to make clear that I’m referring to the terrifying Tobe Hooper film and not the soulless remake), but as a throwback to the survival horror films of the ’70s-early ’80s, it was a superior piece of entertainment. And while it was soaked in gore, the fact that the villains in the film were cannibalistic backwoods freaks disfigured by generations of inbreeding was somewhat incidental. Seriously. All that mattered was that a group of mostly sympathetic characters were being stalked and had to learn how to survive.
Wrong Turn received mostly dismissive reviews and turned a modest profit. On DVD, while it failed to become a cult classic, it managed to sell a respectable number of units, leading 20th Century Fox to pour a few million into the direct-to-DVD sequel Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. The results are about as slapdash and dispiriting as can be expected.
After a promising prologue that features some dark humor, a jaw-dropping kill that is so impressive, I don’t want to give away the details (note to all aspiring horror filmmakers: don’t lead off your movie with your best kill; everything that follows is disappointing in comparison), and a voice cameo by Patton Oswalt (!) as a slimy Hollywood agent, the film proper begins and immediately takes everything downhill.
A cast of walking clichés gather in the backwoods of West Virginia to shoot a reality TV show pilot called Apocalypse. Directed by Michael (Matthew Currie Holmes), an obnoxious wannabe auteur (we know he has street cred as an indie-horror film nerd because he wears a Battle Royale shirt) and produced by his girlfriend Mara (Aleksa Palladino), the none-too-original idea of the show is to pretend the world has ended via nuclear war. The survivors have to learn how to live without any of the modern conveniences that they have come to rely on. It should be noted that the inbred cannibal family that will stalk, kill, and eat them aren’t part of the show.
When one of the cast members fails to show, Mara, the meek city girl, is pressed into duty to fill out the cast. The rest of the cast/victims includes: Jonesy (Steve Braun), an obnoxious professional skateboarder; Amber (Daniella Alonso), an obnoxious Iraq War veteran; Elena (Crystal Lowe), an obnoxious sexpot who will do anything for more screen time; Nina (Erica Leerhsen), an obnoxious ice queen who proclaims she’s there to win, not make friends; and Jake (Texas Battle), a college athlete who’s so nice, it’s obnoxious. Hosting the show is Dale (Henry Rollins, the only member of the cast who seems to understand dialing it down), a retired Marine colonel.
Released into the wild with cameras strapped to their heads to capture plenty of P.O.V. footage that was timely eight years before the film was released, these walking stereotypes become little more than entertaining fodder for the hideously deformed family of cannibals that hunt the area for food. As the film turns into a game of Ten Little Indians, the only entertaining aspect is the character of Dale. Slipping easily into badass soldier mode, he becomes the film’s wild card as he dispatches members of the cannibal family by way of shotgun, arrow, and sticks of dynamite. If his story had been the main thrust of the film, I would have been more entertained (mainly because I can believe that this is what Henry Rollins does on his weekends). Unfortunately, Dale is relegated to a subplot, popping up every few minutes to goose a little life into the otherwise dreary narrative.
Given the hackneyed script by Turi Meyer and Al Septien (the scribes behind such cinematic cancers as Leprechaun 2 and the Carrot Top vehicle Chairman of the Board) and the low budget, it’s not surprising that the film feels like an extended chase sequence put together by film school students. As helmed by first-time director Joe Lynch, the transitions between scenes are clumsy, the cast overacts like a bunch of two-year-olds on a sugar high, and the cinematography has a flat, cheap television episode quality. The gore and makeup effects are top notch, but the rest of the production obviously suffers from the lack of available funds.
Surprisingly (to me, at least), the film has a strong reputation in the horror community. It did well enough that another sequel (Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead) followed in 2009. After the disheartening mess of Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, I will not be adding it to my Netflix queue anytime soon.
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