2014, R, 102 mins.
2014, R, 102 mins.
Michael Parks as Howard Howe / Justin Long as Wallace Bryton / Génesis Rodríguez as Allison / Haley Joel Osment as Teddy / Guy Lapointe as Guy Lapointe
Written and directed by Kevin Smith
Smith’s TUSK just may be one of the most deeply unsettling films set in
the Great White North that I’ve ever seen.
It’s also the only horror-comedy – or film, for that matter –
that I can recall that is based…on a podcast.
Smith and long-time friend/movie producer Scott Mosier recorded episode 259 of their extremely popular SModcast where they discussed a very peculiar ad that they came across. It involved a homeowner offering a living situation free of charge…but only if the denizen in question agreed to dress up as a walrus. It was at this point that the podcast got…even weirder…as Smith and Mosier began concocting a fictitious narrative based on the ad itself for well over an hour. Smith then decided to let social media speak and asked his Twitter followers whether or not his and Mosier’s premise should be made into a feature film.
media won out and the rest, alas, his movie history.
unlikely and crazy-as-hell back-story to the making of TUSK is arguably
more twistedly compelling than the resulting film that Smith has made, but
there’s not denying that TUSK’s inherent and haunting strangeness is
what ultimately gives it a sort of B-grade, cult midnight movie allure.
The film seems like a bizarre hodgepodge of MISERY and THE HUMAN
CENTIPEDE with madcap farcical underpinnings, featuring jokes and gags
targeting all things Canadian. Not
all of the tones – body disturbance horror, situational comedy, cultural
satire, and social media spoof – gel together as fluidly as
Smith would like them to. More
often than not, TUSK feels somewhat haphazardly thrown together without a
care in the world as to symmetry. Yet,
it’s Smith’s daring willingness to go for absolute broke and not shy
away from the innate lunacy of the material that helps separate TUSK from
just about any other film on his past resume.
Watching this film is not a pleasurable experience, per se, but
seeing Smith jump-start his creative juices after creative lethargy is
kind of exciting.
thanklessly good Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton, a somewhat overbearing
and full of himself L.A. based podcaster that hosts a show with his pal
Teddy Craft (a pudgy and spirited Haley Joel Osment).
Their show – humorously named “The Not-See Party” (just read
it out loud and you’ll get it) – specializes in finding and then
mercilessly mocking Internet videos featuring hapless losers embarrassing
themselves. One video they
particular features a young man joyously swinging around a katana
sword…which culminates in him accidentally severing off his right leg.
Of course, Wallace and Teddy don’t seem to feel much remorse
for the kid, as they both take great relish in ripping him and his video
to shreds on their podcast in the most arrogant and juvenile manner
add insult to injury, Wallace decides to journey to Canada (Manitoba
specifically) to seek out the kid that nearly killed himself for an
interview for the podcast…but he discovers upon arrival that the poor
young man did kill himself out of personal shame and embarrassment.
While drowning his frustrating setback in a local bar, Wallace
finds an ad for a local man offering room and board for free if the person
is willing to hear of his lifetime’s worth of fascinating stories.
With a newfound intrigue, Wallace arrives at the home of the
man, Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a retired seaman that begins to tells
Wallace of stories of his naval escapades off the beaches of Normandy
during WWII (he met Ernest Hemmingway while stationed on the vessel). He also tells Wallace of how he was saved by a walrus (he dubbed Mr.
Tusk) during his tour
after being shipwrecked. As the strange
stories continue, Wallace grows woozy and suddenly passes out after
drinking some of Howe’s tea. When
he later awakens – strapped in a wheelchair and with one of his legs
amputated – Wallace quickly realizes that Howe is not playing with a
reviews – far too many of them – took elaborate pains to reveal what
happens to poor ol’ Wallace while in Howe’s disturbing mansion of
social horrors. I’ll opt not to, other than to say that Howe shows
a deeply psychotic desire to transform his guest into one of his favorite
marine animals. TUSK works
best on viewers that enter it cold and blissfully unaware of the physical
and mental terrors that befall Wallace while in Howe’s custody. There are moments when I wanted to watch the film through my
fingers…or look away altogether, which I think is the intended effect.
TUSK’s biggest strength is its ability to drum up undulating
suspense with every scene occupying Wallace and Howe’s relationship, one
that begins modestly and calmly and then segues into the deeper underbelly
of unbridled insanity. The
ultimate fate that befalls Wallace is equal parts appalling, sinisterly
tragic, and darkly amusing at the same time.
The fact that Smith shows no inhibitions with going to extremely
odd places with his film - and without a care in the world to looking or holding
back - is commendable.
also think that Smith has found a new muse, of sorts, in Michael Parks, a
veteran character actor that was the best thing in his tense, freaky, but
problematic religious thriller RED STATE.
Park, at the twilight of his life, has managed to churn out a
career of playing eccentric nutjobs, and his performance in TUSK is
spectacularly and eerily effective showcase piece for how good he is at
playing certifiable lunatics. He's the captivating center of interest in TUSK, and even when the film
veers towards outlandish craziness, his performance grounds the
terror. There’s another
actor in Smith’s film that appears uncredited playing an Inspector
Clouseau-like detective named Guy Lapointe (named after the former NHL
hockey player) that helps Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis
Rodriguez) locate Wallace and apprehend Howe, the latter whom the detective
has been chasing for a decade. I
wouldn’t dare spoil the actor’s identity here (hell, even the film's
credits show Guy Lapointe being played by…Guy Lapointe), but I will say that
nothing in this performer’s past resume of portraying unusual oddballs will
prepare you for the outlandish performance rabbit holes he dives into
only wished, though, that Smith found a satisfactory manner of blending
the film’s farcical elements with its horror ones.
There are times when TUSK meanders in and out of scenes – jumping
back and forth in time – without much precision.
There are also scenes where Smith’s predilection to dialogue
(usually one of his strengths) draws out to self-indulgent levels, as is
the case with an extended flashback featuring Lapointe’s first meeting
with Howe that begins promisingly and then goes on and on for what seems
like an enternity. Married to
the uneven tonal shifts and odd scene transitions is an epilogue that
perhaps shows Smith writing himself into a corner in terms of properly
concluding his whole sordid storyline. TUSK’s ending raises more questions than it answers.
That, and I’m not altogether sure if it’s supposed to be
amusingly macabre or soulfully heartbreaking.
Discipline is not Smith’s strongest suit as a filmmaker, to be sure. The sheer comic absurdity of TUSK doesn’t always mesh well with its willingness to maliciously make our skin crawl. Yet, Smith’s film is uniquely and brazenly perverse. Some will embrace it monstrous pleasures, whereas others will easily dismiss it as a misshapen and ill-conceived foray into wanton tastelessness. TUSK is indeed tasteless, but it’s also disquietingly and grotesquely effective at times as a horror/comedy. Saying that I “liked” the experience of viewing it would be wrong. However, I did admire its unrelenting tenacity to be…well…different.
boy, is this movie ever different. No one will ever complain
that Smith lazily went back to the creative well after seeing TUSK.