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I’ve never been scared of the dark. Not as a child, and not as an adult. For me, the dark was neutral, a place that I was able to hide when the monster in my house came into my room. I always figured that if something was able to hide in the dark from me, then I could hide in the dark from it.

And this is how the wilderness acts in the 2003 release, Wrong Turn, from director Rob Schmidt. While terrain in horror usually favours the antagonist – the creepers in The Descent, the kids in Eden Lake – the wilderness of West Virginia favours no one and offers both respite and means of escape and survival for former slayer Eliza Dushku and Desmond Harrington.

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While rightfully drawing comparisons to Jeepers Creepers (2001) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Wrong Turn takes the route of many early 2000’s horror films and aims to market the “sexy teenagers” running around the Appalachian forests as pseudo-icons of the survivalist genre.

Heterotopia and Wrong Turn’s Location

In the briefest possible definition, a heterotopia is a place within a place. In this case, the Foucauldian term refers to the woods in which the mutant hillbillies of the film call home. Harrington enters after taking a “wrong turn” (if this joke isn’t used at least once in every article written about this film, is the article even worth reading?) on his way to a job interview in Raleigh. Eliza Dushku of “Want it – Take it – Have it” fame ends up amongst the trees because she and a group of friends are out off doing wilderness activities (for a great synopsis and review, click here). So far so typical. However, the Wrong Turn location cleverly manipulates the environment of the film in order to create a fresh, remarkable take on the genre (see THAT Tree Top Scene).

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However, one of the ingenious ways that this film differs from other Hillbilly horror and thrillers it pays homage too (Deliverance, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes) is in how it utilizes the heterotopia it creates. Typically, in rural horror such as this, there is a clear statement in the film about the nature of humanity when urban and rural motifs are stricken from them. Of course, this is a direct reference to The Hills Have Eyes which, arguably, shows how – at heart – we’re all savages willing to do anything to save our families. Wrong Turn doesn’t elicit this same response. Instead, the will to survive, rather than the will for revenge, is what propels these characters (presumably Harrington can reschedule his interview if he explains the circumstances.) This isn’t a film about stripping away our city-personas and reclaiming our primal instincts, it’s about beating the monster at his own game. On his own turf.

Yes, this leads us to…

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THAT Tree Top Scene

In one of the most exciting chase scenes of contemporary horror cinema, Harrington and Dushku find themselves amongst the canopy of the forest while running from a mutant-hillbilly (Three Finger) chasing them amongst the trees and dodging arrows from another on the forest floor. It is here, hiding in the shadows and traversing the branches in a Tarzan-ian way that Wrong Turn takes the time to reverse the trope that horror settings favour the monsters. From the moment the watch tower they are initially hiding in is set alight, the tension within the film is ramped to a solid 9 out of 10. The minute they leap to the towering trees that flank them, the film earns that last point. Tropes are well and truly out the window. There are no blondes falling as they run, no screaming teens letting the killer know where they are hiding. Instead, the protagonists do everything right.

Like little birds they manoeuvre themselves through the growth of the lower canopy while being hunted. They change the meaning behind the tress around them – they are paths to safety, not perches to die on. The film dances with this scene until it reaches a moment of beautiful catharsis and the forest becomes hostile to those that call it home.

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It’s probable that this scene is what created the six sequel behemoth that Wrong Turn has become. Eliza’s vulnerability in luring Three Finger in, Harrington’s patience to set the trap, and even Three Finger’s vile glee at thinking he’s either found his dinner or concubine being cut short by a swift THWACK! to the chest is one of the stand out moments of 2000’s American slasher films.

Wrong Turn Filming Locations

The first Wrong Turn (released in 2003) was filmed in various locations throughout Ontario, Canada such as Hamilton, Webster Falls, Toronto, Uxbridge, and Dundas. In general those areas of Canada provide lots of rural area for filming such a movie.

Last Updated on May 17, 2021.

Conner McAleese
Conner McAleese is a current PhD student at the University of Dundee studying 'spaces' in contemporary horror. His debut novel, The Goose Mistress, was published in 2018 by Dark Ink Press and details Eva Braun's experience of World War Two. McAleese now considers himself a horror writer and has had his short stories published in Blood Rites Magazine and Haunting Voices among others. He looks to the 'disturbing' for inspiration, hoping to academically push back the last taboos in literature to analyse what they represent for today's cultural fears and anxieties. However, he hopes to balance this with a satisfying and long career in horror writing. He currently lives in Dundee and is working on his first horror novel.

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