A High Podcaster Has Given Us A Weird Dream Project In The Form Of ‘Tusk’ (Movie Review)
Tusk: 2 out of 5
Wallace: I don’t wanna die in Canada.
I have large doubts that 20 years ago, following the debut of writer/director Kevin Smith’s Clerks, anyone predicted that one day this man would make a film about a mysterious man turning an unknowing participant into a walrus, but here we are. Based on an idea that stemmed from an episode of one of Smith’s podcasts, SModcast, which he hosts with his best friend and former producer pal Scott Mosier, Tusk is a twisted horror-comedy that certainly features some memorable images, but mainly serves as a way of telling us that Smith has no desire to really move beyond entertaining his own fanbase, despite stepping away from his comfort zone, from a filmmaking standpoint. Given that I am a fan of Smith’s and hold a few of his films in high regard, I was certainly happy to go along with seeing how this film turned out, but if I had no clue about what this film was, I am pretty certain I would have thought Tusk was a film made as some sort of dare.
The film is based around an article that Kevin Smith brought up on a podcast, where a man was supposedly offering a free living situation, as long as the lodger would agree to dress as a walrus. That idea warped into a horror story about the lodger being abducted and sewn into a walrus costume made out of human skin, which is what this film is. Justin Long stars as Wallace, the co-host of a podcast, along with his pal Teddy (Haley Joel Osment). The two use the podcast to basically make fun of people on the internet. With an interview lined up, Wallace heads to Canada, only to find the situation to be a bust. In an attempt to figure out what to do, he finds an article posted in the men’s room, leading him to the home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks). While Howard seems like a kind enough old man with stories to tell, he actually has much more sinister intentions in mind.
While the nature of this film seems far away from what Smith has worked on in the past, Tusk most definitely represents the place that he is at now in his life. The film may be a gross horror movie, but it is layered with a lot of silly comedy and countless references to Smith’s podcasting life. Various cameos, certain visual gags, and the use of Canada as a setting all point to how Kevin Smith has taken refuge in the world of podcasting, which is not inherently wrong, but certainly suggests how comfortable he seems to be in making entertainment for those who are already entertained by him. I could say that horror-junkies may be the one group that may be suddenly turned onto Kevin Smith, because of a film like this, but that would only make sense if this film really offered something to get hyped up about in the horror community. As it stands I, despite having little issue with where this film came from, I will not be very surprised if the profits of Tusk do not amount to much, given the film’s nature.
Admiration for Smith aside, this film just does not work. It is the result of a nightmarish concept that is twisted and darkly humorous, but also stretched out way too thin. Turn this idea into a short film in some sort of horror anthology and Tusk could easily play out a lot better. As it stands, there is not enough here to make the film more satisfying and certain decisions really drag it down even further. It may be weirdly enjoyable to see this cast go all in on a film like this and they do what they can with the material, but the film is both lost in getting the tone right and far too tame to work as horror, even with Christopher Drake’s effective score in mind.
One of the easiest films to relate Tusk to is The Human Centipede. For the record, I am not a fan of either film, but that one also had a similar dilemma of what to do with such a twisted idea for a feature length runtime. Tusk is like the friendlier version of that film, but it also does not get away with having little else to offer, once the basic shock factor wears away. Justin Long’s Wallace character is hardly sympathetic, beyond not wanting to see anyone go through the ordeal that he is put through (which extends to the real life special make-up effects process). Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez (she plays Wallace’s girlfriend) have little to offer, aside from disbelief and reaction shots to the scenarios they are presented with. Aside from Long, It basically boils down to two key performances.
Michael Parks has already worked with Smith in his previous film, Red State, and apparently had such a great time that he was happy to play this crazy, walrus-obsessed man. For what it’s worth, Parks nails this role. His performance is offbeat and chilling in all the right ways and the film is easily the most effective when he is onscreen. Less successful is the character Guy Lapointe. I cannot go too much into who this character is, but I am aware that a version of this film without this character exists and that may have easily raised my thoughts on the film. He represents the choice to add in some silly comedy in a film that just cannot find the right way to balance these broader touches, which is a shame. It does not help that these portions of the film completely ruin the pacing of the film, rather than work to build up the sense of dread.
Tusk is a messy way for Kevin Smith to once again move away from his comfort zone. The idea is bonkers, but the film looks great and is another step into more competent direction than Smith has been traditionally known for, as far as his directorial abilities go. Still, even with a grisly, twisted premise such as this, Smith’s decision to stick with merging his horror idea with the kind of material he has been putting in his earliest films does not benefit him here and horror-comedy can be a very tricky thing to pull off. Seeing him develop a sort of passion project that includes lots of love for his life as a podcaster and the fans that support him is fine and not shying away from what this film is set out to deliver is commendable, but Smith does not manage to pull it off. Instead, we have a bunch of weirdness that sticks out like a sore walrus.