Note: I’ll keep this review spoiler-light. I’m finding myself much more cagey about spoiling on VGR2016 than I intended or am IRL. Think my reviews too vague? Comment below!
What a piece of work is a walrus!
The film Tusk grew out of a spoof Housemate Wanted Gumtree ad which director Kevin Smith read out and elaborated upon during episode 259 of his flagship SModcast podcast (the episode is no longer available since a site redesign, YouTube link here). The premise is that Wallace, a semi-pro internet shock jock travels to a remote part of Canada where he interviews an old sailor with tales to tell of the sea. The film takes its first sinister turn when he finds himself unable to leave. Later there’s a further turn towards body-horror as he’s held captive in a more physical, more psychologically-disturbing way.
The first half of the film is fairly slow and whilst the second half isn’t action-packed, the pace definitely steps up as a rescue attempt gets underway. I’ve seen Tusk dismissed as Human Centipede-lite, but in-running it reminded me distantly of Audition, a film which contrasted its everyday sexism with a notoriously “clinical” final act. That might just be because I avoid Saw/Hostel et al. Smith isn’t Miike or Roth however and nor is he trying to be, on the commentary track he references instead the unsettling works of Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, against which this film does brush. Actually come to think of it, there is a hint of Gozu about Tusk, dealing as it does with a meandering approach to plot and huge mammalian bodies. I’m reaching now, ignore me.
Where Tusk works it works wonderfully. Michael Parks (Red State, the Grindhouse films) is excellent as antagonist Howard Howe from his initial spellbinding of Wallace, to his perfectly-reasoned malice, to his deceptive police-evading turn seen in flashback. Quoting snippets from The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and The Walrus And The Carpenter he is marvellously compelling throughout, moreso than in Red State to my mind.
Justin Long (Drag Me To Hell) plays Wallace‘s horror, anger and arseholishness well through an on-the-nose moustache (his own choice of face furnishing according to the commentary track). Cinema stalwart Guy LaPointe (one of those “Oh him!” actors you’ve seen in loads of stuff) plays the role of the investigating officer as a French-Canadian Columbo-meets-Clouseau and his more comedic treatment of the material is a welcome element when he pops up halfway though the film. Génesis Rodríguez (Man On A Ledge) plays the inconsistent character of Wallace‘s girlfriend Ally well but isn’t given a great deal to do, except in one superfluous-but-great straight-to-camera monologue. Haley Joel Osment is in it too. Yes, he grew up.
There are two amusing teenage girl store Clerks (both new to acting, but each with a pedigree) who have already been spun off into another film by Kevin Smith (Yoga Hosers) which hasn’t yet seen release.
So is Tusk a good film? Hrm. Is it an interesting film? Yes! Odd flaws and choices abound (who is the protagonist? who are we following?) but there are innumerable compelling elements, the gorgeous framing of the fireside conversation, the quirky Ernest Hemmingway flashback, the committed performances all round, even that of the walrus. Indeed the walrus is the unsung hero of this review and its penultimate scene is where Tusk briefly becomes the great horror B-movie it has previously shown insufficient interest in being.
So, don’t watch it if you don’t like vulgarity, blood, body horror, being weirdly disconcerted, wondering where the tension is, jarring (yet should they be otherwise?) digressions into real-world child sex abuse as backstory, films that are “only” a 15 certificate or ultra-lazy Canadian stereotyping.
Do watch it if you want to see a fairly good patchy film which does something different to a) everything else and b) to what you might expect from its writer/director even knowing about it beforehand.
Now we wish to catch a fish so juicy sweet!