Whenever anyone mentions Bad Turn Worse in the future, I’ll fondly think back on one of my new favorite heist explanation scenes, so cleverly orchestrated by brothers Simon and Zeke Hawkins. Blending the frantic nature of a first-person-shooter with cheeky criminal comedy, three juvenile robbers run though their illegal blueprints in real time, imagining exactly how the break-in should go down. While that might sound a bit oversimplified, the Hawkins brothers inject a little fun by having the two characters on camera react to any hiccups in the plan mid-scene, interrupting a hold-up with hypothetical questions only to direct their attention back towards elderly hostages after bickering about small details. The sequence is flashy, exciting, clever and memorable, striking a unique high note – a note that’s sorely missed throughout the film’s more generic existence.
The Hawkins brothers bring a certain freshness to their filmmaking, and Bad Turn Worse works cinematically as a backroads thriller, but the story borderlines a simplicity that fails to garner interest at points. Jeremy Allen White and Logan Huffman play two local boys dragged into a smash-and-grab plot, bringing along actress Mackenzie Davis as their female love interest Sue, but the small-town allure doesn’t translate into a rousingly original story. Huffman, playing B.J., steals some money from the wrong people so that the three friends can party frivolously before Bobby (White) and Sue flee the tiny Texas town for the greener pastures of college life. As the title suggests, B.J.’s actions have dire consequences, as the trio find themselves committing another crime to appease their first target.
The allure of Bad Turn Wrong rests solely on filming techniques, as Dutch Southern’s screenplay relies too heavily on small-town corruption in a secluded part of a podunk Texas town that’s seemingly miles away from civilization. Taking place in a locale where dusty tumbleweeds blowing about wouldn’t surprise anyone, B.J. and Bobby easily navigate their way around criminal activities thanks to an extremely minimal police presence and a Quentin-Tarantino-esque underworld that rules the desolate town with an emphasis on violence. B.J. sees the crime as one last hoorah before losing his girlfriend and best friend, which makes for a bit of energetic fun despite dire circumstances, but Sue’s lusty wedging between the two boys is predictable, cheesy and overplayed. The Hawkins brothers know their way around a camera, but Southern’s screenplay unfortunately doesn’t do the romantic thriller genre any favors.
It’s often easy for a writer to get caught in a web stereotypes, especially when working with such a rural location known for specific personalities, and it’s Southern’s villain character Griff who reflects this sentiment to a tee. Played by Mark Pellegrino, Griff is exactly the scummy Texas thug you’d expect to grace such a role, representing the sum of all that’s enjoyable and corny about Bad Turn Wrong. While you’ve got to respect a character who can still coyly drop the phrase “dead as disco” and still snag a laugh, there’s absolutely no mystery to his actions or goofy attitude, forcing a pulpy representation that begs to be remembered. Then again, we’re talking about a character whose favorite number is 69, because it lets him use the phrase “I’ll suck yours if you suck mine” – just in case being a murderous criminal didn’t drive home his disgusting nature.
Bad Turn Worse is driven by poor decision making, which makes for a curious story about stupid kids getting what’s deserved and the bounds of friendship being tested from every possible side. The crime itself is a catalyst for lingering feelings (that aren’t hidden very well), allowing for anger and aggression to take center stage after Griff politely tells B.J. and Bobby they can either work together, or go ahead and find themselves dead. Once Sue enters the mix, the film devolves into a high-school-drama situation where there’s one girl and two boys, making for an equation that just doesn’t divide evenly. There’s jealousy, backstabbing, and hidden emotions, all harping on another thematic element about escaping a doomed local fate in favor of educational success and the promise of a better big-city life – another overplayed cliche that finds little help when punctuated by a criminal fate.
We’re constantly reminded by Bad Turn Worse that there are 32 ways to tell a story, and I’d love to see another version that tones down a forcibly cultish vibe permeating throughout the entire film. It’s flashy and fun when it has to be, and the leads all do a fine job of turning into juvenile thieves, but there’s a cocky too-cool-for-school vibe present without having the proper qualifications. Zeke and Simon are certainly destined for bigger breaks and much more attention, because their filmmaking never comes into question, but Bad Turn Worse never really finds itself being more than “serviceable” thanks to a pretty generic, almost bubble-gum story.