*½/**** Image N/A Sound C+ Extras C
starring Erica Leerhsen, Henry Rollins, Texas Battle, Aleksa Palladino
screenplay by Turi Meyer & Al Septien
directed by Joe Lynch
by Walter Chaw As the first half is so abominable, colour me surprised that the second half of Joe Lynch's DTV sequel Wrong Turn 2 is actually good in a nominal way, dipping into the backwoods family well in a wonderfully derivative banquet sequence (borrowing from the first and third Texas Chain Saw Massacre pictures) and offering up bits of inventive, comic-book gore along the way. It's never scary and never tense, but it does feature scream queen Erica Leerhsen in another performance that's leagues better than the film she's in deserves. What's missing is that sense of pathos that defines the horror pictures of the '70s: Where the first film replaced it with glib ugliness, this one replaces it with smirking self-consciousness--neither tactic doing much to honour the idea that the family that slays together, etc., making the late-game sparks of brilliance ring suspiciously like glad-handing, happy horseshit. I appreciate that the cannibal hillbillies are given a family structure by the end of the piece--I just wish that that family wasn't the Cosbys. It's not really supposed to feel like a sitcom, is it?
The premise, for what it's worth, pretty much defines what's wrong with Wrong Turn 2. A reality show a little like "Survivor" takes root in some rural shitwater, and little do they suspect that production is going to be--wait for it--more than they bargained for! (How do you satirize something--reality-TV--that's already in the process of self-parody as it unspools?) The usual meat bags are assembled: the black ex-athlete, the bimbo slut, the smart one who makes bad decisions, the wiseass, the lesbian hardass Latina (coined in Aliens), the horndog, blah-de-blah. Like the simultaneously-appearing sequel The Hills Have Eyes 2, there's a tough-as-nails military guy, Murphy (Henry Rollins), who as the host of the competition is the ostensible leader of this motley crew, thus giving Rollins the opportunity to become a B-movie hero--and again like The Hills Have Eyes 2, there's a semi-grisly, high-camp live birth. Leerhsen is the wounded one with a dark past (and she's a Vegan, which is important in a cannibal movie--try to pay attention), covering the scars on her wrists with '80s-era wristbands and earning my everlasting devotion in the process. Bill pretty much says it all in his review of the first film, but here it is again in précis: Wrong Turn 2 is an offspring of Deliverance, naturally, and that episode of "The X-Files" called "Home," and lest we mistake, someone warns someone else not to be mean to the locals (as Ned Beatty is mean to the locals in Deliverance) and someone else declares herself to be a "city slicker." Quicker than a banjo lick, the Elephant Man posse starts picking off the pretty people in medieval ways with hatchets and arrows.
You're right to guess that there'll be an old car graveyard to convey to the good guys just how long the freaks have been waylaying roadtrippers; that there will be a scene where someone decides that the best place to hide in the wide-open woods is inside a shack; and that all manner of animal traps will be misused. Bad acting, bad dialogue, and bad jokes are par for the course; and without Stan Winston's creature shop this time around, the bad guys look stupid, too. What's good is summed up by the performances of Rollins--refusing to be put down by a couple of arrows--and Leerhsen, who, in a moment of surprising depth and gravity, is seen tied to a chair with razor wire slicing new grooves into her suicide scars. It's lovely in its weight and uncompromising in its eventual grotesquerie (it's the little things that make me squirm), and I admired the hell out of not only that, but also her character being force-fed meat and the millisecond throwaway gag of our family of horrors saying grace before digging in. Indeed it's so good, this moment, that it's worth wishing the film had started rather than ended there--had found this thread of inspiration and spun it into something soulful instead of burning all that footage on walking around in the woods. I appreciated, too, the bit that beats The Last Broadcast at its own game by having a television director accidentally film his own demise. (There's enough here that works, in fact, that I wonder whether Lynch doesn't have a real movie in him.) Unfortunately, Wrong Turn 2 irritates with its sense of camp--its pervasive desire to reassure that there's nothing at stake beyond the minor pleasures of its retro flourishes, Karo syrup, and squib splatter. Try too hard to convince us that it's worthless garbage done on a lark and what can I do but agree?
Fox, as is their occasional inclination, provided a DVD-R as a screener--which would be fine and dandy except that it doesn't (one hopes) represent the retail product and therefore can't be graded in any conventional way. My primary player, in fact, tends to stutter whenever the floating "property of" .gif appears. In the case of Wrong Turn 2, it stalled completely on chapter 9 and refused to start up again until chapter 12 or thereabouts, forcing me to watch the film on my laptop. Suffice it to say I have no idea how the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer will look on a retail copy. The DD 5.1 audio is a disappointment as well: I did note a few crickets in a later chapter, but for all the opportunities to fill out the sound field, most of the information is relegated to the front channels. Woeful. Special features begin with an F/X reel (12 mins.) that's sort of cool, if utterly without surprises. The feature-length yakker with Rollins, Leerhsen, and Lynch is lively though not very informative, with Rollins doing his autodidact thing and Leerhsen left to contribute stray comments. I like Lynch's enthusiasm--time will tell if he can channel it into something worthwhile.
92 minutes; Unrated; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Fox