The beauty of Tusk is skin deep. On the surface Kevin Smith‘s latest is an ambitious, fun, and whimsy horror flick that truly speaks to the B-rated horror movies we all know and love. It’s what is beneath that skin that worries me a bit. The film has a mix of Human Centipede and Metamorphosis, and with those kinds of inspirations, you’d think that Tusk would live up to its B-rated fun. A24 certainly saw something in the film, as a film like Tusk fits into their mantra. And in a year where the worst could actually end up on this year’s best, Tusk should really be acknowledge for taking the risks, and A24 should be applauded for seeing that Smith’s latest is a risk
It truly takes a lot for Tusk to work, and it works even better when you accept the absurdity of not just the premise of the film, but also how it is executed. Hit the jump for the full review.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) is a Not See Party (get it?) podcaster. The podcast is based weird and strange stories that go viral on the internet. While a trip to Canada to follow up on a story about a boy who slices off his own leg ends up in failure, he see’s an intriguing advertisement that invites anyone who reads it to head to the backwoods Manitoba to listen to an old man’s stories. Without hesitation, Wallace heads there, and meets up the host, Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who regales him of stories that involve Hemingway, wars, and a walrus. What Bryton doesn’t know is that this was a trap set by Howe, where he holds his victims hostage, and then turns them into a walrus.
Tusk starts off as a relevant film. We see Wallace and Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) mocking a nerd who accidentally severs his own leg with a samurai sword. The Internet would have no trouble chastising the victims for his stupidity. This does make the film more relatable. But that idea goes both ways, and since the story is actually based on an Internet hoax, the entire film starts to give off weird vibes. So as Wallace’s search for strange stories get’s stranger, the movie also gets stranger. In between those moments, we start to Wallace’s ignorance of Canada irritate Canadians.
But once Wallace enters Howard’s home, the fun starts to begin. Wallace’s search for a story for his podcast overshadows his logic, and he doesn’t realize that Howe has drugged him. That’s when the slow and painful transformation begins, and the film starts is slow and equally painful fall. Graphic images of the man beast chimeras are shown. Blood is splattered everywhere, and surgical instrutments and weeping blood.
Smith doesn’t hold back on the details of Wallace’s transformation from man to beast as we start to see the character’s limbs slowly being chopped off. Then a few more limbs are chopped off. Those images of the chimera give us an idea of what a human walrus hybrid would actually look like if the procedure was performed successfully.
Now the biggest problem with that is that the reveal almost came too quickly. And after the major reveal, the film starts to split off into a different direction. Somehow the film’s second act, which should be completely focused on Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) and Teddy’s search for Wallace, turns into this wacky backstory about Inspector Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) and Howard’s alter ego in another life. The remainder of Tusk is desperate to tell a story and keep it interesting with flashbacks that feel more like puff pieces than anything that will actually contribute to the story itself. The whole second act is dedicated to a subplot that really makes no sense, and does nothing to contribute to the film’s horror themes. Once you start feeling those effects, you start to realize that the flashback hasn’t ended, it goes on and on and on. It drags for so long, it almost feels as though the film would have ended at that moment, giving none of the characters any closure. Luckily Smith, doesn’t stop the film there, in fact it almost redeems itself.
It is if as though the film realized that it made the mistake of having such an excruciating second act, and it hastily tries to bury it by returning to the film we were suppose to be watching.
But as bizarre as it sounds, if you can take away the flashback, the film does work. Michael Parks is terrific as Howard, giving another bone chilling performance while also being an excellent storyteller. Long and Osment don’t get enough screentime together, but the moments they sharr are pretty hilarious to watch. Rodriguez gives a odd five-minute monologue about trust, honesty, and love, put to see her do that for that length of time without any cuts certainly deserves some credit. And Depp is the strangest casting of them all, and you may not notice him the first time, but he is there, I just won’t spoil it for you.
Given everything that I have said, Tusk isn’t a film for everybody, but I suggest you try to watch it twice if you didn’t like it the first time. That first time you have to absorb whatever absurdity Smith is throwing at you, by the second time you watch it, you’ll have a better understanding of what Smith was trying say. Of course you don’t have to watch it a second time, but you might have a better appreciation of the film if you do.