A film review by Craig J. Koban January 30, 2015

TUSK jjj

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

Kevin 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.  

Social media won out and the rest, alas, his movie history.

The 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.



A 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 discover in 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 possible. 

To 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 full deck. 

Many 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.    

I 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 here.   

I 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.  

And boy, is this movie ever different.  No one will ever complain that Smith lazily went back to the creative well after seeing TUSK.   

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