The deformed cannibals at the heart of the Wrong Turn franchise don't seem like easy candidates for the prequel treatment. Unless you've got a killer script in your back pocket about hillbilly incest in the mountains of West Virginia (and the limited food options that lead to the move to long pork), there's not a lot there in terms of compelling backstory. So absent that, Declan O'Brien, the writer and director behind the latest entry in the franchise chooses to go in a completely baffling direction of setting the movie in the same year as the events of the first film, in the ancient, sepia-toned past of 2003. And outside of the new, snowy locale, O'Brien doesn't really add much to the nearly 10-year-old franchise, whose premised needs/deserves a bit more panache and variation than this if it wants to keep going.
The movie actually opens with a 70's-set bait and switch, in a remote facility for the violent mentally ill. Here's the creatures at the center of our feature--One-Eye, Three-Finger, and Saw-Tooth--have been interred following their capture and the murder of some locals. We're helpfully informed by the doctor providing a tour of the facility that these three speak their own language, are incredibly smart, and, worryingly, feel no pain as part of their inherited analgesia. One incredibly stupid mistake later, and the inbred siblings have liberated themselves and the rest of the inmate, going on a bloody rampage.
Cut to present day--er, 2003--and a sexed-up cast of coeds heading up to the mountains for a little R&R at one of their dad's cabin. Yeah, I don't remember any of their names, and you probably won't either, but a lack of a map and an inconvenient snowstorm puts out cast off course and into the seemingly abandoned asylum, where--you guessed it--they're beset by a certain trio of hungry cannibals.
The whole set up begs a few questions, and I promise, I'm not asking them to be glib: first and foremost, where the hell did all of the other asylum inmates go? While the scope and budget of Wrong Turn 4 is small enough that we don't get to see a ton of patients, the size of the facility would indicate that there should be a few dozen of criminally insane men and women in the hills around the sanitarium. Which leads to question two: what (or who) have the cannibals been eating all this time? Did they somehow overpower and eat all of their fellow inmates? There's maybe a really interesting story to be told about the cannibals and their criminally insane posse terrorizing the hillside.
Instead we get more sexy young adults being menaced by the way-smarter-than-our-heroes cannibals within the confines of the asylum (and a little bit outdoors) for the pretty brisk 93 minute running time. What the first movie proved was that a simple premise needs either a determined heroine like the first film's Eliza Dusku or a complete and utterly brutal lunatic like Henry Rollins from the second film to give audiences someone to roll with and make us care about who could potentially end up in the soup. With the exception of the incredibly attractive movie lesbians who don't mind if you watch (seriously, it's ridiculous), I can't recall a single character from the movie.
Likewise, the cannibal clan gets a little bit of a downgrade, transformed from the dedicated hunters/mountain men to generic sadistic killers who seem motivated more by a comic need to make some young people scream than anything actually having to do with survival. And with the "unrated" cut of the movie on the disc, we get lovingly lingering shots of them peeling strips of flesh off of their victims for a makeshift fry-up, and there's plenty of beheadings, quarterings, stabbings, and so on, but none of it really registers since it's not actually happening to characters that feel even remotely like people.
There's not much to recommend the latest entry in this franchise, which, like all long-running horror series has already reached its point of diminishing returns. Another entry like Bloody Beginnings, though, and someone will get it in their head to take the fatal, shark-jumping move that all waning horror franchises will inevitably take: space.
Wrong Turn 4 is on DVD and Blu-ray now.