Tusk, the latest film from geek culture auteur Kevin Smith, is not his first foray to horror (Red State is worth a watch), but it is certainly his weirdest movie to date.
The film tells the tale of Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), a podcaster whose entire career is built on tracking down and mocking unfortunate weirdos for the entertainment of his listening audience (think Tosh.0, but somehow more insufferable). On a trip into the deep dark wilds of Manitoba, Wallace is abducted by his latest would-be victim, a retired sailor with an unhealthy obsession with walruses and a flair for creative surgery.
Tusk is strange to say the least, but stranger films have been made, and if this were merely a disposable SyFy Channel flick there would be nothing more to say about it. However, this is Kevin Smith we’re talking about, and a premise this weird just has to be symbolic, right? Well, sort of. Like many horror movies, Tusk is at heart a morality tale, and the tortures that Wallace endures are a sort of poetic punishment. He is after all a despicable and obnoxious person, but as the story unfolds we learn this his mean-spiritedness is an adopted persona, one that he feels he must keep up in order to hold onto his popularity. Deep down, he is a shy, sensitive dork who got popular and turned into a narcissistic bully. This is where the movie comes closest to having Something To Say, with Wallace’s character acting as a stand-in for the worst elements of geek culture. He clearly owes his fame to the recent popularization of all things geek, and like all too many in his situation, he turns out to be a really poor winner. In any case, by the time we meet Wallace, he has already undergone a transformation of sorts, one that robbed him of his emotional humanity. Much the film’s thematic heft comes from him regaining this, even as his physical humanity is taken away.
Of course, sometimes a walrus is just a walrus and a B-movie is just a B-movie. Thankfully, this is the rare modern-day B movie that gets it right. At its best moments, Tusk finds the sweet spot between horror and comedy, where the two blend into one another. Veteran actor Michael Parks practically carries the movie in the role of the mad mariner, and his numerous monologues are simultaneously creepy, hilarious, and sorrowful. Park continues to to top himself right up until the end of the movie, revealing ever-greater levels of madness in this character and his plans. That being said, I do wish that Kevin Smith had allowed himself to dwell on the horror side a bit more. The film’s Human Centipede-inspired mutilations are unsettling but somewhat rushed, and could have been drawn out more to great effect.As it is, the film’s third act spends an excessive amount of time following Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and pod casting sidekick (Haley Joel Osment) on their journey to rescue him. They are joined by a drunken Quebecois detective (a surprise cameo by Johnny Depp), a character who is entertaining enough, but perhaps not worth the amount of screen time he is given. The same might be said of this subplot.
Pacing mistakes aside, Tusk largely redeems itself in its over-the-top climax and thoroughly grim ending, making this a flawed but fun kick-off for the autumn horror season.
Robin Latkovich is Cleveland born artist and staff writer for GeekCLE. He tried very hard to wedge a “humanity/huge-manatee” pun into this review. It is probably in everyone’s best interest that he failed.