Film Review: Tusk (MA15+) (USA, 2014)

TUSK-TRAILER

By Jessica Shields

If anything can be said about Kevin Smith, it’s that he’s a man of his word. Smith and long-time collaborator Scott Mosier stoner-rambled their way through an episode of their podcast, Smodcast, in which they dissected a fake Gumtree ad about a rent-free room for let in Brighton, UK. The only conditions of the lease being that the occupant must be willing to dress in a walrus-suit for two hours of each day.

Smith and Mosier, sucked in by the prank, discussed this bizarre arrangement and a spark of inspiration struck, with the two buddies realising the potential of this idea as perfect fodder for a horror flick. To use Smith’s words, “a cuddlier version of The Human Centipede.”

The podcasters asked their listeners to Tweet #WalrusYes or #WalrusNo according to whether or not they were in favour of Smith bringing this idea to fruition on the big screen. Surprise, surprise – fans dared Smith to put his camera lens where his mouth was. The result is Tusk – a stomach-churning, nauseating, at times hilarious, but otherwise utterly ridiculous throwback to B-grade horror classics like The Fly, as well as a cautionary tale against indulging in the cruel mockery of others’ misfortune online.

Justin Long stars as Wallace Bryton (d’ya get it?) who hosts a podcast with his buddy Teddy (Hayley Joel Osment) cringingly called the ‘Not-See Party’ (say it fast, with an American accent and you’ll get the joke). So called because it involves Wallace travelling around, interviewing weird and interesting people, and then reporting back to Teddy who has ‘not seen’ them.

Wallace’s latest assignment sends him to Manitoba, Canada to interview a YouTube star dubbed the ‘Kill Bill Kid’, Smith’s gory ode to the ‘Star Wars Kid’. Upon reaching Manitoba and finding the kid currently unavailable, Wallace is forced to find a new story on the fly.

Enter the bizarre ad that started it all, only this time stuck up on the wall above a urinal and penned by older gentleman Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who has lots of tales to share about his many ‘adventures’ to a willing lodger. Wallace inevitably takes the bait and heads out into the backwoods of Manitoba to find this intriguing old codger, unaware of the worldly raconteur’s very sinister agenda.

The first forty minutes or so of the film are actually pretty enjoyable, with Howard’s tales of the high seas providing the best parts. Long is spot on as the arrogant, condescending, self-congratulatory LA schmuck and Tarantino-regular, Parks, plays Howard to creepy perfection, rendering the evil monster with a tortured soul and a motive based in humanity and redemption.

Then, the pacing and direction of the film veers way off track and doesn’t quite deliver as either horror or comedy. The bloodied, backyard surgery Frankenstein of the film is revealed in all its grotesque glory in full lighting – too full for it to be frightening. Rather, Howard’s ‘Mr Tusk’ creation is absurd and nauseating in its pus-dripping, drooling scabbiness. It is a great credit to the make-up department but misses the mark of qualifying for the great movie monster hall of fame.

The jokes aren’t consistent enough for Tusk to be considered a worthy comedy either. The film is saved a little by the late reveal of a major Hollywood actor (whose identity I will respectfully withhold) in the guise of Quebecois detective Guy LaPointe. It is a role that this actor clearly revels in, perhaps far more than many of his most recent roles in bigger blockbusters. To watch him deliver his crafted character is like watching a kid at Christmas, but several of his jokes disappoint as they venture into the realm of toilet humour mixed with Canadian stereotypes.

Tusk is bizarre and definitely disturbing, but is at least imaginative and a gleeful ‘f**k you’ to the Hollywood system and its tried-and-tested genre checklists. In their Smodcast, Smith and Mosier reference recent horror hits like The Purge and how, no matter how dark and twisted their premises may be, they can be made on gloriously low budgets and rake in huge profits at the box office. Tusk hasn’t reached the box office heights of The Purge but it has attracted the attention of investors who, Smith recently confirmed, have provided the financing needed for Smith to make his next passion project, Clerks III. On top of that, Tusk has also facilitated the creation of two new strains of weed in the legal areas of the States – the mellow ‘White Walrus’ and the more intense ‘Mr Tusk’.

Tusk isn’t all that funny, or that scary, but from the sounds of it, Smith never really meant it that way. He was simply following through on a promise made to his loyal Smodcast fans to make this ludicrous horror film, which impressively plays out pretty much exactly how Mosier and he envision it on the podcast. The only exceptions being its location in Canada rather than Britain, and the lack of involvement of James Franco and John Cusack, whom Smith notes as perfect choices for the leads. That said, it’s a pity that in the process of flipping the bird to Hollywood, Tusk doesn’t amount to much more than a “spooky” stoner campfire story that found its way onto the big screen.

Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Tusk is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday, October 9th.