Over the years, Kevin Smith has given us some pretty hysterical moments in his films. He’s also given us a few equally messed up scenarios as well. And then there are times when he combines the two and makes us think twice about accepting a chocolate covered pretzel. Although, he brings it all to an entirely new level of uncomfortably funny in his latest film ‘Tusk.’ Or, to use language more akin to his iconic Jay and Silent Bob characters, the first installment in the filmmaker’s True North Trilogy was hilariously f*cked up.
‘Tusk’ follows podcaster Wallace Bryton as he ventures to Canada to interview someone for his next episode. But when things fall through, he finds a new and potentially more interesting person to chat with thanks to an ad in a bar bathroom. However, when he meets the mysterious seafarer Howard Howe, things get considerably weirder as Wallace is transformed into a walrus.
Ignoring the changes that Smith has gone through behind the camera, especially in regards to the type of movies he plans to make from here on out, you can really tell that the New Jersey native has really evolved. This was most prominent in ‘Red State,’ which many probably would not have guessed to be a Smith film had his name not been on the poster, but you get that vibe in ‘Tusk’ as well. Visually, you find a lot of really intimate shots that convey feelings of discomfort and eeriness, as well as some homages to his peers like a Tarantino-esque snap zoom here and there.
On the story side of things, while we do get some of the same dick and fart jokes and pop culture references that we’ve come to know and love from the ‘Clerks’ and ‘Mallrats’ director, the dialogue is a beautiful and ornate tapestry of experienced and learned words hung in the halls of a madman’s soliloquies. Because the premise clearly comes from a half-baked state of mind, it’s surprising when Smith elevates it to the level of some of the great body-mod horror movies that came before it with a harmonious balance of shocking reveals, twisted comedy, and a clear vision that stayed away from being campy.
Another factor in the success of this film is the cast. Michael Parks has a career full of excellent performances, but when he sinks his teeth into the intricate monologues of this script, he’s certainly at his best. In his last two outings with Smith, Parks has given clinics on how to be a creepy villain. He exudes psychopathic tendencies with every muscle of his body in this performance so well that you totally buy his super weird serial killer trademark. But on the flipside, Justin Long did an excellent job opposite Parks. For much of the second and third acts, the boyishly charming actor from ‘Accepted’ and ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’ gets to show his range in ‘Tusk’ when his character is left without a tongue and is basically only has primeval screams and his eyes to convey emotions, which he does excellently. It definitely takes skill as an actor to get the point across with just your eyes, but Long gets it done.
Despite the good things that I have to say about ‘Tusk,’ there were a few questionable aspects as well. Even though Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez were a great fit, some parts of their story seemed to be too much. There was already enough going on that the audience didn’t need the added drama that they brought in. Plus, when they encounter an extended cameo from Guy Lapointe (who many will recognize without knowing that name), it’s as if they’re in an entirely different movie because the tone shifts pretty drastically. Though it picked up eventually to build to an unexpected climax, some scenes could have been done a little differently or eliminated all together to tighten up the story a bit.
That being said, even with all its good and bad qualities, ‘Tusk’ explores the idea of when a human stops being human in a crazy, messed up way. It also helps that the walrus suit by itself is super creepy, but seeing these events unfold in order to find where the man ends and the walrus begins are both thought-provoking and extremely chilling at the same time. It’s been hard to get these ideas out of my head since walking out of the theater.
To speak plainly, ‘Tusk’ was f*cked up in the best possible way. It improved on the gross-out antics of ‘Human Centipede’ by waxing the philosophical with its outrageous premise. It’s really great to see Kevin Smith grow in such a way that stays true to his roots without giving us the same old comic book nerdiness and stoner humor. The filmmaker’s skills have grown exponentially since debuting ‘Clerks’ at the Toronto International Film Festival twenty years ago, but his passion for storytelling is as strong as ever. Sure, not everyone will be into the stories that he’s telling, but if you’re a Kevin Smith fan or just someone looking for some new horror to get yourself in the mood for fall and Halloween, then you should definitely check out ‘Tusk’.