Not quite a terrifying horror movie or a deliriously twisted comedy, instead Kevin Smith’s Tusk lands frustratingly in between; much like its central monster, it’s something of an awkward hybrid. But even so, it’s a movie you won’t be able to look away from.
The film, probably the first feature ever adapted from a podcast episode, features Justin Long as Wallace, a podcaster who, along with his co-host (Haley Joel Osment) specializes in “cringe humor,” a vocation that his longtime girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) strongly disapproves of. After a trip north to Canada in search of a story for that week’s show turns into a bust, Wallace stumbles along a bizarre personal ad in a bar bathroom promising tales of a life of adventure in exchange for a little companionship, which the young ‘caster falls for hook, line and sinker. And for those of you who’ve been following along with Smith’s SModcast at home, yeah, that’s when Michael Parks turns poor Justin Long into a walrus.
Smith is nothing if not a gifted storyteller, and Tusk is obsessed with stories and the people who tell them. But while that’s certainly interesting from an academic standpoint, in practice, it mostly translates to characters delivering alternatively terrifying, tearful or comedic monologues directly to camera, which can wreak havoc on the movie’s pacing at key moments and disrupt the overall flow. Still, Tusk allows Smith to indulge his more twisted side, and head further away from his early stoner comedies into the genre that he first started exploring with Red State. Smith has since called that film “practice” for this one, allowing him to keep Parks’ ranting and raving, just swapping out the film’s more controversial elements for the absurdity of a guy in a walrus suit.
The movie starts off promisingly enough, with a bevy of Canada jokes at customs (fitting, considering this is the first film in Smith’s planned True North trilogy), and a few intense scenes of Long squaring off with Parks. But that kind of energy would be unsustainable for a full 90 minutes, and that’s when the pacing issues start to creep in. As anyone who’s followed the process knows, Smith had one hell of a good time making this bizarre little movie, and that passion certainly translates onscreen. The filmmaker can be self-deprecating when it comes to his talent for the craft and aesthetic sense, but Tusk both looks and sounds tremendous. The production values and atmosphere he’s able to create rival those of more seasoned horror directors, and Parks gives a magnificently unhinged performance as the deranged walrus-lover. The problem is, once Long goes “full walrus” about midway through the film, the story doesn’t really have much left to explore, so instead it veers in an entirely different direction for its third act.
That said, Smith deserves serious credit for his ability to take that ludicrous premise, rubber walrus suit (a grotesquely realistic patchwork of skin and crude stitching that the director makes sure to linger on) and over-the-top dialogue (sample: “Is man not truly a walrus at heart?”) and make it legitimately horrific as opposed to laughable. There’s very little camp in Tusk, until a third act introduction of French-Canadian detective Guy Lapointe (a bit of stunt-casting that’s too good to spoil) that takes the story into more openly comedic territory.
You certainly can’t fault Smith for attempting to give audiences something truly original and out-there and, yes, absurd in a time of never-ending horror remakes and sequels. And in that regard, Tusk is a major success, even if the film never quite comes together as a polished or balanced whole, not quite a meta-horror/comedy like Cabin in the Woods nor full-blown gross-out body horror. It’s worth seeing what Smith’s pieced together to satisfy curiosity if nothing else, but ultimately, Tusk unfortunately feels like it’s missing that same infectious, delirious energy that drove the project from a goofy idea kicked around by two guys on a podcast to becoming a legitimate feature film in the first place. Tusk will be hitting theaters September 19th.
WICKED RATING: 4/10
Director(s): Kevin Smith
Writer(s): Kevin Smith
Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks
Studio/ Production Co: SModcast Pictures, Phase 4 Films
Budget: $3.5 Million (Estimated)
Length: 102 Minutes