Like a lot of teens around middle school I discovered Kevin Smith. Just beginning my “Grrr I’m a rebellious douche” phase Smith’s brand of nerd-infused, dick and fart jokes was perfect for me at the time. Over the years he has become one of my favorite film makers and one of my big go-tos when it came to movies. Then Zack and Miri Make a Porno came out. While I enjoy the movie quite a bit Smith seemed to hit a plateau and the magic wasn’t there. Then Cop Out which was an even bigger disaster. Had Smith lost it? Had I gotten too old? I feared it was the end of an era before I saw Red State. His first horror/thriller it was a unique, if flawed, take on extreme fundamentalism. Add a unique and creative way of distribution and I was a fan all over again. Three years later he returns to horror with this year’s Tusk. Will
In search of laughs and a good story traveling podcaster Wallace (Justin Long) is stranded in Canada when his interviewee dies. Needing an interview he meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks) an adventurer who has seen and done it all. Drugged during their interview Wallace is taken hostage for a cruel, insane transformation.
What you need to know first and foremost is that unlike Red State this isn’t a horror movie. Instead what we get is a horror-comedy which is much trickier. When it comes to horror-comedies the tendency is to lean too much towards one or the other and Tusk is no exception. The movie definitely leans more on the comedy side of things and I found the comedy to be very hit and miss. A lot of the Canadian based comedy worked for me (can never get enough Degrassi references) as did in-jokes to Smith’s podcast network. For the most part the comedy comes from scenes of the faux-podcast and Johnny Depp as Quebecois detective Guy Lapointe. While the podcast has an amazing name (The Not-See Party) the comedy it very much feels like outtakes from Smodcast episodes. Even more annoying was Depp putting in the Deppiest performance he has done in years and no, that’s not a good thing. Donning some mediocre make up and his most ridiculous accent to date it follows the modern Johnny Depp path of starting off quirky but quickly annoying. It doesn’t help that the last third of the movie focuses on Lapointe and his hunt of Howard Howe.
This is a shame because I thought the movie succeeded on the horror side of things. Like Red State before star Michael Parks shines as Howard Howe. Enthusiastic and the proper amount of over-the-top he steals the movie. His ability to go from funny to frightening to “What the hell am I seeing” is absolutely awe-inspiring. Equal praise should go to co-star Justin Long. Playing the usual Justin Long role it’s his physical performance that absolutely dazzles. The things he has to go through for this role is definitely worthy of praise. The performances are accentuated by some incredible talent behind the camera.
While never the biggest or most exciting director Smith is probably at his best in Tusk. Getting more experimental than ever before he uses some almost Tarantino-esque lingering shots that absolutely work. The mood he and his cinematographer set is the perfect background for Robert Kurtzman’s special effects. Using mostly practical effects seeing the final product is amazing. It’s not perfect nor the scariest thing you will ever see. Still in this weird world of human walruses and silly accents it works way more than it should.
Tusk isn’t perfect in any way. The film’s tone is an absolute mess and could definitely use another edit to cut some of the fat. Luckily if you can look past these imperfections you’ll find a movie that can be funny, unique and yes, even a bit horrifying. With some great effects and even better performances it’s definitely worth checking out.