September 21, 2014

Movie Review: Tusk (2014)

It is interesting to watch Kevin Smith attempt to recreate himself as some sort of quasi-horror director. Through his first two attempts he has not been successful; however, this does not make his output bad by any stretch. There is certainly something of interest to be found in these films, if not the films themselves in their entirety. His latest, Tusk, brings to mind such body horror films as Human Centipede, American Mary, and perhaps even May, Frankenhooker, and Videodrome. While I prefer all of those to this, there is something to be said about Smith's take on body and surgical horror. Of course, the first word to enter my mind leaving the theater was: “meh.”

While I cannot say I liked Tusk, I also cannot say I did not like it. The one thing we are likely to agree on is that it is one of the weirdest things to pop up in mainstream cinema in awhile. I give him kudos in attempting something as out there as this. Its very existence pays homage to the fact that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places, and should something catch your fancy, you should play it out and see where it goes. The inspiration came from an ad (which turned out to be a prank itself) discussed on a podcast by Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier where a homeowner was offering a living situation free of charge, if the lodger agrees to dress as a walrus. You have to admit it is a silly concept, one that Smith clearly became attracted to and inspired the creation of said film.

The plot of the film follows a minor celebrity podcaster named Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) heads to Canada to interview a guy who accidentally cut off his own leg. Unfortunately, the man committed suicide, leaving Wallace without a subject for his show. He then comes across a posting from someone offering a room in exchange for listening to tales of his storied life. Intrigued, Wallace heads out to the man's remote estate. Once he arrives, he meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), the eccentric lonely man who lives all by himself in the large home. Howe begins to tell him of meeting Ernest Hemingway and how he had become lost at sea only to be saved by a walrus, a walrus he names Mr. Tusk. It is about here that things begin to get weird.

Wallace is drugged and upon awakening, discovers one of his legs has been amputated. Howard does not exactly seem all that forthcoming with details of what happened. Although, it becomes apparent pretty quick that things are not going to go well for young Wallace. It seems that Howard has intentions of recreating his walrus rescue by turning his guest into a facsimile of the blubbery creature. Meanwhile, Wallace's podcast partner, Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), and his girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez from Death Race), become concerned and head to Canada where they team with a former Quebec detective, Guy Lapointe (an unrecognizable Johnny Depp), to find out what is going on.

Tusk is certainly a bizarre film, however, the tone is all over the place and there is no real tension. It is kind of a: “Hey, look! This is weird!” kind of thing. Much like Red State, there is the problem there are no likable characters. I guess we were supposed to care about Wallace, but I found the character so grating and annoying that I was hoping for him to get messed up. Perhaps if there was someone likable that was in peril I would have cared more. We also run into Smith's usual talkiness, which works so well in his comedies fails to work here. It does help to highlight the characters but what works for the character doesn't work for the movie. It lets Michael Parks cut loose and give us some wonderfully nasty villain moments (much like his turn in Red State), but the talkiness hurts the atmosphere.

There are some genuine pacing issues as well, some scenes just seem to go on for no real purpose. For example, the bit at the customs between Wallace and the guard. It is humorous, sure, but does nothing for the movie. Then there is the build up/reveal of the surgical horror elements. There was not enough transformation stuff. For all the care Howard seems to have put into it, we do not get all that much build. Hell, we get more build up in a relationship drama that ultimately has no impact on anything. It is a game of misdirection that never pays off and is never actually needed. This all adds up to ultimately sink the feature.

I will give Smith credit for this continued reinvention of self, but he works best with characters who have a reason to talk. Stick to movies built around talky characters and comedy. Or, at least work on pacing and atmosphere for a picture such as this. There are pieces of a good movie here, just not enough to really grasp onto. I do not hate it, but I do not like it.


Mildly Recommended.

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