Kevin Smith, so long associated with bringing bring relatable geeky slacker comedy to the big screen, made a concerted effort with his last film, 2011’s fanatical cult horror Red State, to break out of that cinematic mould. He goes even further with his latest joint, Tusk (2014), which goes straight to DVD in the UK and is likely to leave as many viewers howling with derision and disgust as whooping with delight. One suspects that’s exactly how Smith likes it. Re-teaming with his last film’s charismatic antagonist, Michael Parks, Smith has now stitched together a pinniped body horror that delivers on its promises with twisted glee even if it loses steam a little once it does.
Justin Long stars as Wallace Bryton, a gratingly obnoxious podcaster whose weekly segment of juvenile banter involves him interviewing supposed crazies and then describing the experience to his studio bound co-host, Teddy (a bearded Haley Joel Osment). When he takes a trip to the Great White North (i.e. Canada) only to find that his latest hapless subject has committed suicide, he decided to make the journey worth his while be answering an advert found in a bar toilet. Wallace arrives at the isolated home of the sinister Howard Howe (Parks) in search of eccentric anecdotes, and finds a different animal entirely. Those that have seen the trailer will have an idea of Howe’s nefarious intent, and others can take a reasonable stab at it from the telling title. The sheer insanity of the premise alone is enough to make Tusk a surreal hoot.
However, Smith also makes sure that he brings the funny having a blast with the fish-out-of-water, brash American in kindly Canada scenario (“in Canada you’re red, white and never blue”). Things remain playful, with Parks’ eloquent but undeniably creepy ex-sailor as he orates on adventure and survival on the high seas. Problems begin to arise when the horrifying plan is reveal and embarked upon. The sheer madness of proceedings is enough to keep it entertaining, but all of the tension drains away and atmosphere is further lessened by constantly cutting back to Teddy and Wallace’s tearful girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez). They’re hot on his trail with Guy Lapointe, a peculiar Sûreté du Québec detective in tow. The identity of the actor playing the cross-eyed, moustachioed gumshoe is best left as a surprise, but as – successful – comic relief, he’s given too much screen time. Of course, most people will find that Tusk lives or dies on its grotesqueness. It just would have been great if Smith had kept things a little bit tighter whilst still going the whole hog on his grisly vision.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson