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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: Tusk

Whether you like it or not, it's horror movie season! I'm a big fan of horror movies, but am the first to admit that there have been at best five horror flicks in the last five years that are truly worth seeing. This year we've got the usual slop of sequels/prequels (Annabelle), documentary-style (As Above, So Below), and generic haunted house (Ouija) flicks, but one movie doesn't quite fit with the rest: Kevin Smith's Tusk, notably maybe the first movie to be based on a podcast episode.

Tusk is essentially a tale not unlike The Human Centipede, where a madman kidnaps and mutilates his victims to try and turn them into a monstrous creature, in this case a walrus. The setup is patently ridiculous, and sets the tone for the farcical nature of the movie, but it is played for straight horror, at least at first. We primarily follow Justin Long's character Wallace, a podcaster who interviews 'weirdos' and then describes the interviews to his podcasting partner for each episode of the "Not-See Party" podcast. The first half plays very much like a traditional horror movie with comedy elements, but after Wallace's transformation it devolves into pure slapstick as Wallace's partner (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) search for him, running into the utterly ludicrous Johnny Depp who plays a crazy Canadian detective.

The movie is occasionally very funny. When the villain (played at times to great effect by MIchael Parks) reveals his plan and cries, "We will answer the age old question: is man truly a walrus at heart?", I'll admit I burst out laughing. But there's a scene early on involving a Canadian customs officer that hints at one of the biggest issues with the movie: they make a couple jokes, use the scene to explain the nature of Wallace's podcast, but then the scene just keeps on going. And going. They milk each little situation for as much comedy as possible, but not in an Edgar Wright way that lends itself to multiple viewings, utilizing more of a see-what-sticks technique.

In fact, the movie comes across as exactly what it is: the result of a couple of friends bullshitting a story together. During the end credits, they play audio from the podcast from which the movie is based, and the scene they describe there is much funnier than it is in the actual film. The scenes that just drag on and on with stupid gag after stupid gag probably worked very well in podcast form, as part of the fun is hearing how much fun they are having creating the story on the fly, but as a movie it just often feels like an inside joke that the audience wasn't in on.

There's sort of an interesting narrative structure that the film takes, with flashbacks that connect with the tortuous transformation and further the development of the characters, but unfortunately it's lost in the sheer ridiculousness of the 2nd half. The first act even gives us a pretty good moral conflict–that Wallace is essentially an asshole that takes advantage of people's misfortunes for profit–that might have made the climax more satisfying if only it had come into play in any way after the first 40 minutes. Once the walrus suit comes out and Johnny Depp makes his bizarre, ridiculous appearance, the movie drops all pretense of actually being a horror movie or even a story to some degree, relying solely on the absurdity of the situation to go from one scene to the next.

As a podcaster myself, I appreciate the attempt, but unfortunately I feel like this experiment was a failure. Tusk is neither a satisfying horror movie or absurd comedy because outside of a few nice scenes, it devolves into self-indulgent ridiculousness. It comes across as a project made by some people for their friends, only somehow a Hollywood budget became involved somehow. Smith used to be such a talented independent screenwriter, but here it's as if all those chops went out the window. It's got a handful of funny, memorable moments, but little else. If, like me, you're looking for a solid horror movie to start your pre-Halloween off right, look elsewhere.
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