Movie Review: “Wrong Turn 2: Dead End”

In January of this year, I revealed my intent to review the Wrong Turn series, one-by-one, because I was blown away by the sheer number of sequels the series had and how I had seen absolutely none of them. It is now December of this year, and I am only now reviewing the second film. Suffice to say, I messed up pretty bad on that. There isn’t a lot to say in my defense, really. I’ve certainly reviewed plenty of other films instead, and so, I can’t really claim I was too busy to do it. Rather, I think it all really came down to timing and never having a way to ease my way in someway that was convenient enough. The Wrong Turn collection has evidently become rarer than usual in recent years, and although I’d once been able to find it easy for twenty bucks, I’m now seeing it for fifty or sixty bucks, and that’s just, uh, not what I’m willing to spend on the Wrong Turn series after my lukewarm reaction to the original film. Likewise, finding the series on streaming services has been surprisingly difficult. As you’ve likely surmised, I frequent a lot of them. The Tubi’s, the HBO Max’s, the Netflix’s, Shudder’s, etc., but it was only by luck of the draw I happened to scroll Hulu the one minute Wrong Turn 2 had been added (no others though).

Directed by Joe Lynch, whose 2017 film Mayhem I enjoyed, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End was the film I was told to always be on the lookout for in the Wrong Turn series. It was the gem in the rough, I’d been told, and was, most certainly, the best installment in the franchise.

The premise is straightforward and simple – basically, a cast and crew are filming a reality show that pits contestants against one another in an apocalyptic-themed competition. As you’d think, since this is a horror film, a slasher film, as a matter of fact, the deformed madmen of the sequel’s predecessor pay a visit to wreak havoc.

In the first half hour of the film’s runtime, we become acquainted with the film’s cast of characters, most of which are aggressively unlikable, and I do mean aggressively unlikeable. They’re some of the most obnoxious, sleazily over-the-top characters I’ve seen in a while and I don’t think they had the desired effect the filmmakers intended. In slashers, it isn’t uncommon to have an unlikable character, one that you find yourself actively rooting for the demise of. It is one of the things that blurs the line between horrorific and fun, and is one of the things that only slashers convey. This, on the other hand, didn’t have me rooting for anyone’s demise, but, instead, because of the sheer amount of scummy, annoying people, repelled me from the film itself. For that reason, for the over-the-top characterizations, for how much time they set aside to develop the reality show gimmick and how little it actively plays in the overall film, I can’t say I enjoyed the first third of this film much whatsoever.

This isn’t because I dislike the idea of the reality show concept, per se. Honestly, I think it is a neat idea and I could see a lot of different angles for it. With the apocalypse-theme, contestants may not be able to infer that they’re being stalked or hunted by the family (the Wrong Turners?), or they’d chalk it off to part of the game. Likewise, the Wrong Turners wouldn’t know what to think of all the gadgets and commotion happening in their homeland. For a slasher film, that sounds like a solid foundation to build upon. Instead though, I feel like it all amounts to little more than a way to bring them to the location, in which case, you might as well go with the generic flat-tire shtick instead of spending half an hour setting up goalposts for a game you’re not even playing.

The next half hour of the film’s runtime is greatly improved, as the main central conflict spills out, more-or-less throwing away the reality show gimmick, it is allowed to become a straightforward hillbilly slasher film without any frills. Characters who were unlikable strip away their over-the-top facades in the pressure of newfound fear and become, for the most part, normal. It is all standard, although one thing I did enjoy was the bait and switch of the film’s protagonist (the “final girl,” if you will), which caught me off-guard and, genuinely, made me uncertain of who wore the film’s plot armor and who didn’t.

Likewise, the homestretch, for the most part, sticks the landing as well. Dead End sees Henry Collins’ character Dale Murphy portray a Rambo-esque Army badass, which is cheesy as all hell, but something I welcomed with open-arms. Hereafter, it also leans more heavily into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family horror, with a dinner scene and further focus on their screwup dynamic. All of it comes off pretty well, with a satisfying, albeit, certainly corny end.

As the credits roll, I end up pleasantly surprised by Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. I knew what everyone had said about it, but I also absolutely could not stand the first half-hour of this film. I did not think I would be won over and, for sure, I don’t think anything that happened thereafter was enough to undo the damages, I do think it righted the ship to make a watchable slasher film. The film remains a bit of a plagiarized love-letter to the horrors of yesteryear, not offering anything new or noteworthy to say for itself. The characters range from outright awful characters to awful characters that I like, and there is not a lot of room for emotional investment because of that. What would have been passable portrayals of characters in the second and third chunks were instead left to do damage-control for how they were introduced, and I don’t know if it was enough. However, with the balls-to-the-wall bloodshed, self-parodic but cutthroat energy, and mindless fun to be had with Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, I found it an improvement over the first and think, had it been released in theaters and not direct-to-video, it might’ve become even more of a cult classic (it did receive about half a dozen sequels though, so what I do know).

 

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