Tusk: the most “WTF?” movie of the year?
Review by Daniel Rester
Tusk can practically be taken as a cult film upon arrival given the ingredients and filmmaker involved. Based on a story from his podcast SModcast, Kevin Smith’s new film is supposedly the first in his “True North Trilogy.” Tusk was formed on a simple and thin idea after fans approved, with the film resulting in being wildly original, disturbing, and also extremely ridiculous.
The story begins with Wallace (Justin Long) and Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), two guys who run a podcast in Los Angeles called The Not-See Party. A particular segment on the show sends Wallace to Canada in order to interview a young man. When things don’t turn out as planned, he comes up with no material. He then finds an odd note on a bathroom wall with an old man promising to tell fascinating stories. In an effort to try and dig up some material for the podcast, Wallace goes and meets the man – known as Howard Howe (Michael Parks). What Wallace doesn’t count on is that Howe is obsessed with human-to-animal transformations involving walruses. You read that correctly.
To say Tusk is a strange film is an understatement. It has some elements similar to The Human Centipede (2009), but it’s also very much its own thing. It’s also very much a Kevin Smith film, despite the writer-director venturing into more bizarre and horror-related material than usual. His brand of stinging humor is here, more similar to the commentary-based humor in Dogma (1999) than his goofier stuff in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) and all that though.
Some have said that Tusk has no point and rambles on a stretched idea. I disagree on the pointless part. Despite working on podcasts himself, Smith takes stabs at modern media here. Even more so, he explores the cruelty and sadness that is unique to human beings.
Wallace is presented as an obnoxious jerk that doesn’t pay enough attention to his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), and the juxtapositions between his emotional cruelty to her and the physical cruelty inflicted upon him are interesting. In a weird kind of way, the film is really more about emotional pain than transformative torture it seems. Smith shows that he still isn’t afraid of showing the mean and pathetic qualities of certain human actions.
Smith surrounds his writing with dark humor, though he brings some heartfelt moments through Ally – and in a very weird way, Howe. The dialogue is often sharp and acid-laced, though some of Howe’s words lean heavily on speechifying and oddball poetics. The characters don’t have too much depth, aside from Howe, but they all contribute well to the story at hand.
The direction by Smith is a tad more artistic than usual. He actually weaves the camera around smoothly in places and holds a few still wide shots to great effect in other spots; there is even a pretty good crane shot thrown in. A buzzing music score from Christopher Drake and the exceptional makeup effects by a big team of artists really lend themselves well to the craziness of the picture too.
The acting is surprisingly strong all around. Parks sinks his teeth into the role of Howe, making him a creepy and layered character throughout. Long gives one of his better screen performances as well. The likable actor manages to make you dislike him extremely and yet also root for him in the end. Rodriguez brings the bittersweet touches to scenes, and it’s nice to see Osment making a comeback on the big screen. There is also a funny appearance by Harley Morenstein of Epic Meal Time as a Canadian border agent.
The first two acts of Tusk are superior to the third. The beginning and middle have a lot of mysterious and hair-raising moments. The third act, however, lasts too long and repeats itself. This final part introduces a detective character who is played by a certain A-list actor (I won’t spoil who in case you don’t know). While the actor does an alright job, the character feels a bit distracting and out of place. His introduction also signals two sequences that overlap and seem to go on a long time; this removes some of the built-up tension. Throughout the film and especially in this final part, Tusk can’t seem to hold a certain tone and therefore feels unbalanced.
Tusk is a bit all over the place and is built on a thin idea, but I enjoyed it and found myself thinking about it quite a bit afterwards. Now, this is definitely not a film for all tastes. People who do not like strange horror films will likely find Tusk to be awful. I recommend it for others who are down for seeing some ludicrous and dark stuff though. It’s the kind of film, I think, that people will want to spring on their friends without the friends knowing anything about it. It has that original and surprise quality to it, and I admire it for that.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).
MPAA Rating: R (for some disturbing violence/gore, language and sexual content).
Runtime: 1 hour and 42 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: September 19th, 2014.