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John’s Horror Corner: Tusk (2014), Kevin Smith’s risky failure with over-the-top shock horror and slapstick horror.

September 30, 2014

Tusk-Movie-Poster-640x986

MY CALL:  This film becomes more farcical from beginning to crazy end. If you’re in to that sort of thing, then you might like this. Just don’t watch it simply because you’re a Kevin Smith fan. MOVIES LIKE Tusk:  Body modification horror comes to mind… things like American Mary (2012) and The Human Centipede (2009).

Ever wonder what happened to that kid who saw dead people in The Sixth Sense (1999; Haley Joel Osment)? Well search no more. He’s right here! Sure, he’s been doing some other stuff (Alpha House, A.I., some videogame voice work), but that was the big victory for me here–recognizing him. Otherwise Tusk largely disappointed me over and over again. Why? Because I thought I was buying a ticket to an envelope-pushing, body modification horror laced with torture and festooned with off-putting perversions of human frailty and fixation. That stuff was in there, but I feel that the execution did not do the theme justice.

From crude, hilarious dialogue and interactions with Canadian customs agents to excellently ominous scoring, this film’s tone yoyo’d between serious (with funny introductory themes) to farcical…leaving me most perturbed as to what I was in for as I watched. We start by meeting shock podcaster extraordinaires Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and Wallace (Justin Long; Drag Me to Hell, After.Life). They tell the dirtiest dick jokes, have fun with ridiculous Youtube clips, and interview internet sensations (often losers). Tusk‘s story finds its unsure flippered footing in one of Wallace’s trips to interview a Canadian Youtube clip star who had cut off his own leg with his clumsily geeky katana skills. Wallace treks to Manitoba, all the way making Americans look like ignorant assholes to our friendly northern counterparts, only to find that his interviewee has killed himself.

Hoping not to return home empty handed, Wallace seeks some other “Canadian weirdo” to interview for his podcast. And in the restroom of a Canadian bar he finds an ad for a living arrangement with an old man who has “many stories to tell.” He has found his man!

Tusk-Movie-Trailer

Our villain (Michael Parks; Django Unchained, Death Proof) was largely appropriate for an over-the-top horror film. From the moment we meet him things feel weird. He was zany and sometimes twistedly funny, but just plain sick and insane. Only a few times did his character lose his footing and misstep from over-the-top to farcical (e.g., the “walrus fight” scene or the “walrus suit” itself).

Michael-Parks-in-Red-State

I felt that the effects met the gross-out expectations of the audience and that the body modification (or surgery) scenes succeeded at conveying a sense of sick hopelessness, torture, futility and a truly twisted mind. We see Wallace suffer in complete terror and we believe it. We see our villain take sick joy in Wallace’s transformation…and we believe it. Unfortunately, the later in the film we find ourselves, the more frequent and long-lasting are the farcical aspects…to the point that the last 20-30 minutes feels purely farcical while trying to maintain its unsure grip of a very serious concept (i.e., that one can be stripped of his humanity and made into a monster).

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Behind the scenes shot of Justin Long in “surgery”

Director Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porn, Clerks II) has always been amazing at capturing his northeastern audience (and quickly the rest of the nation) with his well-crafted, oft-off color comedy. And whereas I felt that Clerks II (2006) showed a notable drop in quality in his work, I still loved it and formerly considered his only failure to be his most risky and quite off-genre undertaking of Red State (2011). Red State succeeded at being brutal and intense, but I just didn’t feel that the delivery was there with the characters. But still, kudos for taking the risk. I like dipping my toes into risky movies.

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Tusk-Movie

Justin Long did a fantastic job.  His mustache, however, I feel was some totally displaced vestige of Kevin Smith’s separation anxiety from his Clerks films.

This was another big risk on Smith’s part. I consider it a failure, but I appreciate the risk that was taken. The failure came in keeping the tone consistent. I should add that if I walked in expecting something farcical (and was in the right mood for it) I probably would have enjoyed it MUCH MORE. I’d still wish it was “consistently” farcical, though. Whereas expecting something serious and sick, I left annoyed and feeling cheated.

It felt like Smith couldn’t steer clear of his old ways (a la Mallrats and Clerks) as he painted his characters in this film. Wallace’s too-gorgeous-to-be-true girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez; Identity Thief, The Last Stand) felt a little forced and their relationship issues didn’t really fit in the story. Johnny Depp (Transcendence, Dark Shadows) felt horribly misused and so farcical (compared to his surroundings) that I found his character to be nothing but annoying every minute he spoke or could be seen. And the shift from mostly serious at the story’s inception to entirely cartoon-farcical at its close…well, that’s what broke me. That was where my interest suffered.

Tusk (2014) trailer (Screengrab)

This does not at all address my problems with the shift from serious to farcical. But an Amazon reviewer made a good point: “There’s really only one thing you need to know about this movie: It’s about a guy that kidnaps another guy and starts turning him into a walrus. If that sounds interesting to you, then you can stop reading this and go watch the movie. If it doesn’t sound interesting to you, then you can stop reading this and don’t go watch the movie.” I wanted to see it knowing that, and I was disappointed. Just FYI.

kevin-smith-tusk-diagram

Looks easy enough, right?  Not like it would take a medical degree and a lot of surgery experience to pull this one off.

Lots of risks were taken in this off-farcical film. And this is not a slam-review, it’s just a review from a disappointed viewer who can still appreciate a risk-taker even if I don’t like the product. My advice to you…don’t see this until it’s free for you to view and even then think twice. My advice to Kevin Smith…please keep taking risks outside of your comfort zone, but ask for some help (like a co-writer or co-director with experience in the genre but who also appreciates your style).

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