Written and Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp
Hmm. What to make of Tusk, Kevin Smith’s bizarre tale of a grizzled seaman obsessed with turning an unsuspecting man into a walrus? Is it a comedy? Is it a horror story? Is it classic camp? The truth is that Tusk defies being characterized by any one genre. It’s rife with a smattering of all these elements, and it’s utterly ridiculous, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie.
Justin Long plays Wallace Bryton, an obnoxious podcaster who has let his success go to his head. He’s a loud-mouthed cad who routinely cheats on his gorgeous girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and eschews good taste for ratings. One day Wallace and his sidekick Teddy (a considerably chunked up Haley Joel Osment) receive a YouTube clip from a listener that features a nerd recreating a scene from Kill Bill where he accidentally severs his leg with a sword. Naturally the two find this hilarious, and Wallace decides to go to Canada to interview the kid. Unfortunately, Wallace is too late. It seems the humiliated guy committed suicide shortly before Wallace arrived.
Wallace sees a posting in a bar bathroom from a seaman promising free board and a treasure trove of unbelievable stories from his adventures. Wallace thinks he may have hit the jackpot and promptly contacts the man in the posting, procuring directions to a house in the backwoods of Canada. When he arrives, Wallace is greeted by a man identifying himself as Howard Howe (Michael Parks).
At first he delivers on his promise, spinning tales about his encounter with Ernest Hemingway and such, but when Wallace frequently mentions that his tea tastes unlike any he has before, you know sinister things are afoot. Wallace starts nodding off when Howard recants a story about a walrus that saved him while he was lost at sea. Wallace awakes to a nightmare and is subjugated to amputations and body modifications at the hands of his insane captor, who hopes to turn him into anatomically correct walrus. That’s it. That’s the story.
The story clips along until Ally and Teddy travel to Canada searching for Wallace. They join forces with Guy Lapointe, an inspector who divulges to the horrified pair that he has been tracking a serial killer with a fetish for amputating his victims. Despite the fact that this character is played by an A-lister (look closely) he bogs the film down to a snail’s pace. The film would have been better served by eliminating this character altogether. He’s annoying and boring, and does nothing to further the narrative.
Most of the screen time is shared between Long and Michael Parks. Parks is terrific, initially appearing as a feeble old man in a wheelchair sharing some of his stories, but he quickly does an about face when his true intentions come to light. Long is sympathetic and has to convey a lot of emotion using just his eyes. His plaintive wails are chilling.
There will be inevitable comparisons to Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. Both feature madmen hell-bent on bringing their warped visions to life, but there are comedic elements to Tusk that are executed with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The Human Centipede took itself way too seriously. Smith throws in a handful of Canadian in-jokes and references along the way. Genesis has a monologue mid-way through the movie that humanizes her character and adds a bit of depth to the mix. The final unveil of the walrus-man is ridiculous looking, but still kind of creepy. Like most of Smith’s films, this one will be divisive. People will either love it or hate it, but it’s bound to elicit some strong reactions one way or the other. – Shannon