The key to any longstanding horror franchise, or wannabe franchise, is to keep things fresh for what will inevitably become a jaded audience. That’s more important these days than it ever was before, what with people’s focus becoming more and more limited and hundreds of different things clamouring for our attention in what is arguably an oversaturated media market.
So when compared to the brace of films that precede this effort, Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead (not the video game, I’m afraid) opens quite strong by bumping off a bunch of teenagers in a variety of inventive ways. It then cuts away to a prison and its residents, establishing who we’re really going to follow in this story – the pre-credits people are never destined to see the opening title. It’s a fun opening that plays with your expectations and is content to do something a little different with what could have become an increasingly dull formula. Ironically, looking at later entries in the series, this is precisely what happened. But, for now, let’s focus on this particular story.
Despite that fun opening and the amended focus on a group of prisoners and prison guards, on the whole this is still the same old tried and tested horror movie formula – the group are chased, bumped off one by one, etc etc. The only difference is that the deaths have been transferred to grown men who are as unacceptable in the eyes of wider society as the cannibals that are hunting them. It almost breaks down to an exploration of the fears of that wider society, rule and order are thrown out of the window in the face of pure chaos. More often than not, as The Walking Dead has proven, we’re often our own worst enemies in situations like this.
Who’d have thought that the Wrong Turn films could explore societal fears in such a way? I’m not saying it does it all that well, nor does it seem to have been a conscious effort, but it’s there. There’s also an almost subtle element of post 9/11 angst, but that’s common across most films released in the years after those particular attacks. Left for Dead posits that if you’re a good person you’re going to meet a grisly demise, and the odds aren’t much better for you if you’re an imprisoned killer either.
Once more, bearing in mind that these inbred freaks are somewhat mentally challenged, they still exhibit more intelligence than their prey. People who are content to run around screaming without actually thinking about their actions deserve everything they get. In fairness, it is something that the Wrong Turn franchise frequently gets right, and that is to subvert expectations where it can.
Left For Dead does offer fun death sequences and a suitable narrative to present them in. Its problems lie in that it feels like a film that is going through the motions rather than doing anything to justify its existence. The only thing that you take away with you is that, when threatened by psychotic, deformed hillbillies, most rational thought seems to fly out of the window. Not surprising, but not all that interesting either.