Published on December 17th, 2014 | by Dan Nicholls0
A lot people have problems with Kevin Smith and his films these days, including his new one Tusk, but our man Dan didn’t mind it.
An old man who spent his life at sea holds a young podcaster hostage and slowly begins to transform him into a walrus. That’s Tusk in a nutshell right there, and what an odd, strange film it is. It’s a quirky ‘body horror’ experience from writer/director/editor Kevin Smith, and like the man himself, Tusk waddles to its own offbeat, vulgar little march. An anomaly among the crude and talkative comedies he’s most well known for, the fact that Tusk is different than Smith’s work to date doesn’t (and shouldn’t) devalue the final product (preconceived notions or opinions of Smith himself should also be left at the door). For all its moments of questionable taste that should fend away those with light stomachs, the film feels imbued with a newfound sense of inspiration from beginning to end; its rougher and cheaper corners all lift its horrific spirit higher and aide in creating a more-than-serviceable level of B-movie charm. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it, but it’s not something you’ll see every day.
Wallace (Justin Long) co-hosts a semi-popular podcast with his friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment); the duo mock and ridicule anything and everything they come across, including an unfortunate Winnipeg soul who found unwanted Internet fame with an embarrassing video. Wallace travels to the Great White North to interview the geek behind the meme only to find his subject deceased. While at a rest stop bathroom on the road home, Wallace discovers an ad tacked above the urinal advertising completely free lodging but with one catch: the chosen tenant must humor an old seaman named Howard (Michael Parks) as he tells his tales of life on the water. Wallace can’t resist a replacement story, and heads into rural Manitoba to investigate further. He finds the story, and more than he bargained for, when he’s drugged and amputated as his captor reveals his twisted plan. Wallace manages to leave a frantic voicemail for his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) before becoming more heavily incapacitated. Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) race to Canada in an attempt to track down their captured friend, and are aided by a quirky Quebecois detective named Guy Lapointe (I’ll leave it to you to Google the superstar who dons prosthetics and a thick accent to play Lapointe). What they find, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. But, whatever horrors you’re picturing probably aren’t as grotesque as what the film has in store.
A lot of movie lovers have, for one reason or another, issues with Kevin Smith; the filmmaker has devolved from a hero of independent cinema to a punchline amongst snarky Internet voices in recent years. Clerks was highly influential to me, as I’m sure it was for a lot of people, and in my opinion the writer/director produced some strong films as he found his cinematic voice: Chasing Amy is perhaps as good a movie as Smith will likely ever make, and Clerks II was surprising with its emotional depth. Even Dogma, his controversial 1999 feature, manages to at least push Smith a bit further out of his cinematic comfort zone. It’s hard to predict what Smith’s fans will feel about Tusk, as it’s not likely to result in any universally approved consensus on its merits or lack thereof. But for a schlocky, cheap horror-comedy, I found it immensely enjoyable.
The film doesn’t drag, though those who have tired of Smith’s talkative characters may wish for less gabbing and more walrus fighting. It’s a nice choice for an alternative horror movie marathon, and its cheap (or less polished) aspects may play more strongly on a smaller screen. Justin Long is just likeable enough and just enough of an asshole to make his character feel well rounded, and Michael Parks seems to absolutely relish his role with a sort of restrained zaniness. Tusk at times can’t balance its own mix of comedic absurdity and grotesque horror, but the moments when Smith gets his tone to gel do shine as high points for Smith as a filmmaker (the walrus fight scene might be one of my favorite moments of the entire year.) It’s hard to recommend a movie like Tusk with much enthusiasm, because it is such a mixed bag of tricks and treats for moviegoers. The adventurous should seek it out, but if your tastes run milder you may want to save it for a home viewing experience.