Comedy Drama

Man-Made Film Review: Tusk

October 3, 2014Ben Mk


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I am the walrus...

In 1932, director Erle C. Kenton's adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Island of Lost Souls, terrified moviegoers with its twisted tale of man remaking animals in his own image. Lately, however, Hollywood seems to have developed a keen fascination with the reverse scenario: man remaking man in the image of animals. Arguably, it was writer/director Tom Six's The Human Centipede (and it's stomach-churning sequel) that started this trend. And now writer/director Kevin Smith has thrown his hat into the ring, upping the ante with his latest film, Tusk.

   

Smith's second foray into horror (following his 2011 film, Red State) tells the story of Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), who — with his porn-star 'stache — seems like he would be just as at home on the set of a 1970s adult movie as he would at his current vocation, as one half of the podcasting team behind the gimmicky-named "Not-See Party".

Together with his partner-in-crime, Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment), Wallace scours the weirdest corners of the internet for offbeat videos ripe for on-air skewering. Case in point: a video of "The Kill Bill Kid" (a not-so-subtle riff on the infamous "Star Wars Kid"), for whom Wallace can't resist journeying from sunny L.A. to middle-of-nowhere Manitoba to interview in-person. However, when he arrives in the Great White North, he discovers that his subject has already put himself out of his own misery — a moment of levity that's utterly wasted on the egotistical Wallace, who's mainly concerned with finding "another weirdo" to interview so his plane ticket doesn't go to waste.

Lo and behold, that's when he spots a mysterious note affixed to a bathroom wall, handwritten by one Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who claims to be a wheelchair-bound former sailor with wondrous seafaring stories to tell to anyone willing to listen. Naturally, Wallace can't help but take the old man up on his offer, and soon he's sipping tea in Howard's secluded mansion, being regaled with a gripping tale of a rescue at sea and a life indebted to a compassionate walrus. But though he finds Howard's story intriguing, there's one thing Wallace didn't count on: becoming a part of it.

As he soon discovers firsthand, Howard's ad was all a ruse, concocted to lure unsuspecting strangers to his home so that he could execute his master plan: to transform a human being into a walrus, thus allowing the demented retiree to recoup a few more precious moments with his beloved and blubbery protector, whom he's nicknamed "Mr. Tusk".

The idea — derived from one of Smith's own podcasts — is patently ridiculous, no doubt about it; but to the film's credit, Long and Parks make it easy for the audience to buy into the horror of Wallace's situation, fully committing themselves to the absurd concept. And it's not long before the film begins to deliver on the carnival of horrors teased at the outset.

After drugging Wallace, Howard gets to work mutilating the podcaster's body; and the ensuing scenes between the two actors are positively chilling in the way they unfold, if not for their sheer grotesquerie then at least for Wallace's terrified reactions and the matter-of-fact approach Howard applies to his task (after all, Howard's done this 23 times before, so he's had plenty of time to hone his surgical technique). It's also during this time that Parks gets to paint Howard in somewhat of a more sympathetic light, revealing the character's painful history of child abuse and neglect that's led to his current mental state.

Nonetheless, this is a Kevin Smith film, and as he's wont to do, he's made sure to include humor where audiences might least expect it. Boiling down to a series of jokes about Canadian stereotypes, the comedy is hit-and-miss though, with the worst (if not most baffling) offender being an out-of-place Johnny Depp, who makes an incognito appearance (under layers of facial prosthetics) as a Québécois detective named Guy Lapointe.

Guy joins Teddy, along with Wallace's girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), in their search for Wallace, who's alerted them to his kidnapping through a couple of frantic voicemails (before losing his tongue, that is). But the way Depp quirkily meanders through his part plays in stark contrast to Rodriguez and Osment's otherwise straight-laced turns. Ultimately, the humor ends up feeling like a misguided detour on the way to the movie's endgame, which, when you think about it, is disturbing enough in its own right, considering the man behind it.

The Bottom Line Despite its inherent goofiness and wayward attempts at humor, Tusk manages to strike a nerve with its disturbing take on the creature feature. But much of that success owes to Justin Long and Michael Parks, who rarely veer into parody with their performances. If Kevin Smith were to take a cue from them for his next stab at the genre, it's almost a certainty that the results would chill moviegoers to the bone. As it stands, this movie is still a worthwhile curiosity for fans — either of horror or of Kevin Smith — to seek out. You may even be surprised by how genuinely creepy it can be when it wants to.  Ben Mk








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