Tusk is an odd movie. Really odd. It’s a horror movie with pieces of body horror and psychological thriller stitched together by writer/director Kevin Smith into an absurdly comedic plot. Or maybe it’s comedically absurd. However you want to label it, Tusk is a horrifically fun excursion into The Great White North that is unmistakably a product of Kevin Smith’s pleasantly deranged mind.
Tusk features Justin Long as Wallace, a successful podcaster who makes a living by poking fun at people. For his show he travels across the continent, interviews strange and unique individuals, then relates his experiences to his podcasting partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) so they can both have a good laugh. At the beginning of the film, Wallace travels to Canada and winds up at the home of an interesting and lonely old man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howard wants someone to live with him in the distant reaches of Manitoba, offering room and board in exchange for his wealth of personal stories. When the two men meet, things quickly go from interesting to creepy and it becomes apparent that Howard doesn’t want Wallace to leave. Ever.
From there the story gets weird. Very weird. Howard subjects Wallace to various mental and physical tortures in an attempt to mold him into a perfect companion. What is Howard’s idea of a perfect companion? It’s best if I just let you hear that from Howard himself. He does indeed have plenty of incredible stories to tell, and telling stories is a big way in which the film is constructed. Like in many of Kevin Smith’s movies, the characters in Tusk love to talk.
Some of the talk is simply meant to be funny. Harley Mortenstein of Epic Meal Time makes a cameo as a Canadian border agent and cracks wise in classic Kevin Smith style. At other times the talk is meant to be heartfelt. Genesis Rodriguez plays Wallace’s girlfriend Ally and has an unexpectedly emotional scene where she describes her relationship with Wallace. And at still other times, the talk is just downright strange. Michael Parks is a master at this, weaving incredible tales that blend creepiness and hilarity in vastly varying amounts. His delivery can be intriguing, terrifying, or goofy, and sometimes it’s all of these at the same time.
In a way, Tusk is like a patchwork of various tones and styles. From scene to scene you never really know what to expect. Sometimes it’s horror, sometimes it’s comedy, sometimes it’s drama. It’s not that it’s necessarily disjointed, the scenes do make sense together, it’s just that it’s hard to get a handle on exactly what Kevin Smith is trying to say in the first half of the movie. About midway through though, there comes a point in the movie where the tone is very firmly established. It’s just one shot, but the image on the screen tells you everything you need to know about Tusk. This movie is gross, weird, funny, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously so you shouldn’t either. If you don’t get the joke by this point in the film then you’re probably not going to. Of course, I can’t say what the image I’m referring to is without spoiling a lot, but I think you’ll recognize it when you see it. It’s powerful in a ridiculous way.
One thing that Tusk does well is create powerful images. There are a few that even now, twenty four hours after watching the movie, are still very vivid in my mind. Part of the reason is probably because I never thought I would see something quite like that in a movie theater, but it’s also because Kevin Smith has honed his skills for creating memorable images. Besides the shot mentioned above midway through the film, the final act has a number of pictures that won’t be leaving my brain any time soon. Strange as they are, I’m kind of okay with that.
Sometimes it seems like Smith had these pictures in head head before the script was even written and then just filled in the gaps with plot in order to logically get from one image to the next. In fact, the entire final sequence was outlined long before production ever began. Much like Wallace, Kevin Smith has built an empire on telling stories via podcasts. In episode 259 of the extremely popular SModcast co-hosted by his longtime friend and film collaborator Scott Mosier, the idea for Tusk was created. If you stay through the credits you can even hear clips from the show where Smith and Mosier describe the entire final sequence of the film pretty much exactly how it happens.
Saying that shouldn’t be much of a spoiler. Kevin Smith fans have probably already heard it and know that he asked his listeners to vote on whether or not they would watch it. And that’s one of the greatest things about Tusk; it’s exactly the movie that the fans wanted him to make. Smith has always seemed like the kind of filmmaker that makes movies for himself and his friends. He doesn’t seem too worried about people who don’t get his humor, he’ll just keep making what he likes. Having his fans be instrumental since the inception of the film strengthens that personal relationship and makes them feel like they’re part of Smith’s inner-circle. He’s now, more than ever before, making movies for himself, his friends, and his fans.
It’s pretty apparent that Kevin Smith put a lot of himself into Tusk. It’s crude, it’s funny, it goes off on weird tangents. The scary parts are tempered with humor and the dramatic parts can get so over the top and melodramatic that you can’t help but smile. The strangeness and goofiness may put off some people, and if you’re not already a Kevin Smith fan then this one probably won’t win you over. But Kevin Smith fans will likely have a blast with this movie. The only person that may enjoy it more than his fans is Kevin Smith himself. Hearing him crack himself up when he talks about it makes me think that he truly enjoyed putting Tusk together. I wasn’t sure what to think while I was watching it, but when it was all over I knew I had enjoyed the experience too.
7 – Good
Tusk is more fun than it is traditionally good. Fans of Kevin Smith’s previous work will be the ones who like it the most, but I’d still recommend Tusk to horror fans who don’t mind a lot of ridiculousness with their scares. As a fan of Smith’s since Clerks, Tusk is definitely worth a full price ticket and a purchase on Blu-ray in a few months. For everyone else that’s mildly interested I would recommend a matinee. For better or worse, it’s a moviegoing experience you won’t soon forget.
Dogma is probably still my favorite Kevin Smith movie. The cast is amazing and the story is kind of goofy (naturally) but it’s really well done and serious at the same time. It’s about an abortion clinic worker who reluctantly embarks upon a quest to stop two fallen angels from exploiting a religious loophole in order to get back into heaven.
One of the many things that has always stuck with me from Dogma is a scene at the beginning of the film where Loki (Matt Damon) is talking to a nun about the poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” from Through the Looking Glass. In a few words he manages to get her to question her faith by presenting that poem as an indictment on religion. It also shows that Kevin Smith has been thinking about Walruses for a very long time.
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We Are What We Are (2013)
We Are What We Are is horror/drama/thriller based on a Mexican film of the same name. It’s about a family that has a horrific tradition that no one outside the family can know about. When the mother dies, the two daughters must take her place and become active participants in preparing for the stomach-turning event. Michael Parks plays a local doctor who suspects that something is amiss with the family and begins to investigate.
Though I had a little issue with some of the particulars of the ending, I like this movie overall. It’s worth a watch for fans of slow-building horror.
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Review Format: Theater
Availability: Released theatrically on September 19, 2014
Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Featured Cast: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Guy Lapointe
Run Time: 102 minutes
Watch the trailer