The seventh Wrong Turn is a franchise-best and the first great horror film of 2021.

Eighteen years after Alan B. McElroy introduced horror fans to a vicious breed of creative country cannibals with 2003’s Wrong Turn, the writer returns to the franchise that made him famous with a bold new story utilizing the same name. The seventh entry in the long-running horror series completely reimagines the terror that awaits in the woods without sacrificing the traps and surprises that serve as the Wrong Turn signature. 

In the latest Wrong Turn, Six twenty-somethings hoping to hike the Appalachian trial in rural Virginia find themselves at odds with a reclusive, self-sustaining community known as The Foundation. The diverse friend group believes the people in the woods to be simple-minded monsters, but they soon uncover a thriving subculture that views the group’s presence and actions as a threat to their way of life. 

Woven throughout this plot is a b-story set six weeks in the future. One of the missing group’s fathers (Matthew Modine) visits the same town where his daughter vanished. The townspeople initially ignore his cries for help, assuming he will move on like everyone has in the past, but eventually reveal the dark truth about the people who live on the mountain.

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Horror fans who have spent the better part of two decades watching deformed country cannibals disembowel empty-headed young people with ingenious traps and misdirections may be sad to learn their beloved antagonists do not appear in this film. Though referenced in passing as part of a self-referential joke, the monsters that have served as the glue for this brutal franchise are replaced in this feature with people who — at least on the surface — are no different than you or me. 

But that change is crucial to the success of the latest Wrong Turn. The Foundation is far more relevant to the world today, and the possibility of their existence is not hard to conceive. They’re part of a long line of families who feared the downfall of America and took steps to create a new, arguably better society high in the mountains of Appalachia. There is virtually no crime, no poverty, and no one goes hungry. It’s paradise, or at least, some twisted version of a more just and cooperative world. 

The script’s beauty is how McElroy delivers on franchise expectations while also exploring new ideas about communities that prey on the universal desire to belong. Whether it’s the people in the woods, the townspeople, the friends, or the father searching for his daughter, every story element touches on the need for togetherness. It’s about what we do to one another for one another, both good and bad, and it revels in the chaos that ensues when people with conflicting ideas of decency collide.

The jury is out on whether this is the last Wrong Turn viewers will take, but McElroy and his team deliver an impressive argument for the series to continue for many years to come. Viewers will never wander off a trail again. It’s a high point for the Wrong Turn franchise and the first great horror film of 2021. Here’s to the next six sequels!