Kevin Smith’s Tusk is an uneasy marriage of horror and comedy that doesn’t quite work.
Released September 19th. Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Johnny Depp. Director: Kevin Smith. Advance screening provided by Fantastic Fest.
Kevin Smith’s latest film Tusk started out as a joke, and the finished product still kind of feels that way. Tusk began as a story idea on Smith’s podcast — if you’ve heard the podcast, you already know where the film is headed — and after the support of listeners on Twitter, you can now see it in theaters. It’s the first of what Smith is already calling the True North Trilogy which will have a distinctly Canadian twist — and though Tusk has only just been released, the second film of the trio, Yoga Hosers, is already in production.
But let’s turn back to Tusk: the story follows podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) who heads to Canada to do an interview for the show. Wallace is every inch the asshole American, and some of the film’s best moments come from taking him out of his natural element — his Los Angeles podcasting studio — and dropping him into places he just doesn’t belong — namely, Manitoba, Canada.
Though Wallace carries on with confidence, there’s certainly some culture shock as he’s introduced to Canada and, later, rich eccentric Howard Howe (Michael Parks). The juxtaposition offers some genuinely funny moments as Wallace navigates Canada and heads to Howe’s remote home to interview him after his original interview plan falls through. There’s even a convenience store scene that feels more like Clerks than anything Smith has done since.
But from here, things start to get shaky as it becomes clear Wallace was lured to Howe’s home under false pretenses. Parks really sells Howe’s transition to eccentric old man to menacing figure who traps and methodically mutilates Wallace in an attempt to transform him into the walrus that once rescued him (Howe) from a shipwreck. (No, really.) A shadowy scene pans shows Howe working on Wallace with needle and thread while another shows Howe mimicking Wallace’s screams in a way that’s reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs — the movie has taken a sharp right turn into horror and, for a while, does an awfully good job of being scary.
Unfortunately, the movie has trouble deciding whether it wants to be the comedy it started out as or the horror flick it’s become. Instead of committing to one or the other it tries to do both, interspersing scenes of the crazed Howe with scenes of Johnny Depp playing over-the-top Canadian detective Guy Lapointe. By the end even Howe is played off for comic relief, dressing up in a walrus suit for a final confrontation with Wallace.
The result is an uneasy marriage of genres that doesn’t quite manage to stand on its own as horror or comedy… which is a shame, because the opening act played off like a promising revival for Smith. It’s not all bad: the film definitely has some good moments, but the pieces don’t quite come together to make for a great movie.
Bottom Line: Tusk has some truly great moments, but doesn’t quite come together as a cohesive film. The result isn’t unwatchable, but certainly feels like it could have been better if it had committed itself fully to one story direction or the other.
Recommendation: If you enjoy Kevin Smith’s work, you’ll probably enjoy this over-the-top horror/comedy too. If you don’t… well, this might not be for you.[rating=2.5]