Eliza Dushku as Jessie in Wrong Turn

I’m back with my latest pick for Noteworthy Heroines of Horror! Last time I spotlighted the underrated Kyle from Child’s Play 2, and now it’s time to talk about someone from not only one of my favorite horror pictures of all time, but also one of the best genre offerings of the 2000s. Forget all the ridiculous sequels, Wrong Turn represents the classic straightforward horror film–it is pure suspense and horror from beginning to end and doesn’t distract itself with unnecessary sex scenes or other side-plots. Up against a family of mutant hillbillies in the woods of West Virginia is a group of hot young 20-somethings, one of them being our final girl and noteworthy horror heroine Jessie, played by Eliza Dushku.

Eliza Dushku as Jessie Burlingame in Wrong Turn.Now admittedly, as a massive Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I was a little biased toward Dushku’s character before initially watching Wrong Turn. Her portrayal of rogue slayer Faith on that show was undeniably charismatic and strong, so it stands to reason that she was well-prepped to be a badass chick in a horror film. Dushku gives Jessie the inner and outer strength she needs to survive Wrong Turn, but also gives her some much-needed human qualities. As such, the audience loves her and wants see her to survive the film.

Upon first meeting Jessie, she’s not instantly likable. She’s got a bit of an attitude and is stand-offish toward both her friends and Desmond Harrington’s character Chris. It’s explained later in the film that the reason Jessie and her friends are out camping together is because Jessie was dumped by her boyfriend, so she’s understandably pissed. Her icy demeanor quickly melts as she realizes that Chris is a nice guy. However, we know right from the start that this girl might be one to watch out for because she’s obviously got some fire in her.

Jessie tied up in the hillbillies' house in Wrong Turn.Jessie is not totally without her weaknesses. She does her share of crying throughout the film, especially when compared to fellow survivor Chris. But all of her instances of weakness are understandable and, really, expected. Chris is the new man to the group while Jessie is good friends with all of these people. And, one by one, she has to watch all of her friends die in the most horrible and gruesome ways. She does her crying, as she should, but stays in survival mode. Things seem hopeless for her character when she is kidnapped by the hillbillies, taken back to their cabin, and tied to the bed. But even then, she doesn’t give up, making an attempt to connect with one of the mutants to let her go. Of course it does absolutely no good, but she never stops fighting.

Jessie proves to be an asset to the survival of the group with each new turn of the plot. It is important to note here that Jessie shows just as much care and concern toward Chris as she does to her friends, never once even thinking about leaving him behind even though he is someone she met only hours prior. She is the one who takes charge in commandeering the hillbillies’ truck and driving it while Scott is distracting them and Chris is hobbled by a bullet wound to the calf. When it comes time to escape the burning watchtower, Jessie barely hesitates as she leaps out the window into the trees. In the ensuing chase, Jessie offers herself as bait to lure one of the mutants into a trap. In the final fight, Jessie saves Chris with a killer shot with a bow and arrow – while still tied to the bed. She goes kamikaze on another as she runs at him and sinks a hatchet into his chest. When things get nasty, this girl has no problem getting down and dirty to get things done.

Chris and Jessie rest underneath a waterfall in Wrong Turn.Horror movies don’t usually allow their characters much room for growth or depth, but a few scenes from a good performer can tell an audience everything they need to know about a character. Wrong Turn gets just the right amount of emotion from Dushku’s scene with Harrington under the waterfall where she is grieving for her friends, and Dushku is entirely believable and even more likable. This scene, coupled with Jessie’s heroic actions throughout the entire picture, show that she is the epitome of what a final girl should be–confident, resourceful, strong-willed, with just the right amount of fragility and emotion to keep her human and give her the fight she needs to survive. It also doesn’t hurt that she is really hot.