Movie Review: Tusk

Tusk Poster

@theevilbread thinks you should gamble on Tusk…

You know, I think I’m beginning to see a pattern with films that I enjoy (spoiler alert for the outcome of this review right there), I seem to be drawn to any kind of horror films with a specifically weird, abstract or just downright insane concept and Kevin Smith’s latest film, Tusk, is certainly no exception to that rule, in fact, it may just be the new king. By far not the best film I’ve ever seen but it’s very well crafted and manages to convey a number of emotions upon its viewing; sadness, hopelessness, amusement and terror.

The idea for this film arose from one of Smith’s ‘SModcast’ podcast episodes, a show which I have frequently listened to because of Batman reasons. There was an old gumtree ad that Smith managed to spot wherein a gentleman was looking for a lodger and a requirement for such accommodation was that the lodger would need to wear a Walrus suit for two hours a day and act the part accordingly. Whether this was some kind of weird sex game, I don’t know, nor do I really want to, but the concept itself is just screaming to be adapted and guess what, ‘Tusk’ does just that! However rather than going for all out comedy, which would be the safest route, perhaps even just a flat out spoof of the idea, Kevin Smith seems to have had The Human Centipede: First Sequence on his mind while coming up with the concept for the film, something you can actually listen to on ‘SModcast #259: ‘The Walrus and The Carpenter’. Rather than sewing three characters into ‘one’, the antagonist of the film sets to…well, I’ll get onto the procedure very shortly, but it’s certainly more depraved than the operation procedure of that in The Human Centipede: First Sequence although the world in which Tusk is set in is more absurd.

Michael Parks in TuskNow, onto the plot. Justin Long stars as Wallace, a podcaster along with his buddy Teddy, played by Hayley Joel Osment. They both run the podcast show ‘Not-See-Party’ (geddit?), which has immense internet popularity. With the recent trend of a viral video (an obvious spoof of the ‘Star Wars Lightsaber Kid’ viral that released a few years back), Wallace sets out to Canada in order to interview the star of said viral video to find that he has committed suicide after bidding goodbye to his girlfriend Ally, played by Génesis Rodríguez. Selfish bastard. With no interview for their latest show, Wallace is at a loss; stopping off at a Canadian bar restroom, he finds a note from a man offering a room at his home and the guarantee of hearing all his interesting life stories. Seeing the opportunity, Wallace telephones the old man and gets directions to his house. Upon arrival, he meets Howard Howe, played by the great Michael Parks, the old man whom he spoke with who is confined to a wheelchair. Offering Wallace tea, Howard tells stories of his life at sea, in particular, one about himself being shipwrecked at sea and saved by a Walrus whom he spent a length of time with and named ‘Mr. Tusk’. However, Howe has drugged Wallace’s tea and it begins to take effect as Wallace passes out.

The next morning, Wallace awakens to find himself confined to a wheelchair with his leg amputated. Howe claims it to be the result of a poisonous spider bite and the amputation was a drastic measure to save Wallace’s life. Still under the effect of the drugs, but quite hysterical, Wallace rightfully questions Howe’s insanity until his fear is realised when Howe begins to make jokes in regards to the amputation over dinner. Howe not only reveals both his insanity and his ability to walk, but also his motives. Being obsessed with the Walrus, he intends on mutilating Wallace and sewing him into a horrifically constructed Walrus suit.

Justin Long in Tusk

I won’t go any further into the operation details or the plot because this is definitely the kind of film that you want to go into knowing as little as possible, so I’ve only really revealed what the trailer for it showcases. But trust me, the insanity of this film is incredibly effective and entertaining, it builds and builds up to a point where you would never expect it to go. Trust me when I say, less is more with this film, DO NOT look up screenshots of the full Wallace-Rus until you see his full, glorious and disturbing reveal about fifty minutes into the film.

The main performances in the film are just sublime; Justin Long has sure made up for his Live Free or Die Hard days. He gave us a great supporting role in Drag Me To Hell (a film which I absolutely loved) and now a great, sympathetic role in Tusk, despite the fact his character is a complete asshole and you know how we feel about those in horror films kiddies, like a lamb to the slaughter. However, the true stand out performance in this has to be Michael Parks as ‘Howard Howe’, he really delivers a Hannibal Lecture-esque performance with a villain who is both very intelligent but also equally as insane, with an accordingly dark backstory. Each scene with him just flies by in seconds due to his talent and he has fantastic chemistry with every character he encounters. The two supporting characters played by Osment and Rodriguez also deliver great performances and they have their own little backstory side-story to accompany the main plot.

Tusk is also home to a very funny cameo from a major Hollywood A-Lister, again, I won’t spoil who it is, but he’s nearly unrecognisable in his role and his introduction just adds that bit more of surreal humour to the film. Smith’s daughter, Harley Quinn Smith (I love that she’s named after one of my favourite female characters) also makes a cameo in the film along with aforementioned big star’s daughter.

Kevin Smith’s directing style in this film just accompanies the horror perfectly, this is a body horror film shot in the style of a psychological horror, which is the absolute best way to tackle this sub-genre, of course the effects are particularly important, but without the sense of dread and hopelessness, it’s just another torture-porn, which granted, can be a guilty pleasure. There is an absolutely fantastic scene shot to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk that shoots back and forth between Wallace-Rus and Howe, and Teddy and Ally rushing to the rescue, very Quentin Tarantino in style. The horror is accompanied by absurd characters, dialogue and sequences that inject some much needed humour into the darkness, helping this film to border on dark comedy, which let’s face it, is the only way you could really approach a film about a man turning another man into a walrus.

Now you may be asking, how the hell do the effects of this film come into play, how can they even go about trying to create something like they intend to? Well, the good news is that all of the effects are practical, there is only one bad CGI shot at the very start of the film and it has nothing to do with Wallace-Rus, the suit itself looks amazing in some shots, but quite rubbery and obviously fake in others. The way the suit is presented however, its style and horrific beauty is something to be admired, particularly if you belong to the Sawyer family, which should give you an idea of how it looks. Justin Long genuinely looks like a nightmarish walrus rather than a giant rubber condom for the most-part, the facial make-up is always on par however.

This is the first Kevin Smith film I’ve ever seen, which may be sacrilegious, I’m not quite sure, but I know for one thing, that I will be going through his back catalogue to experience the other work that he has done, that has to say something about the way that this film portrays itself with such an absurd, but humorous plot. I might be one of the few people who enjoyed The Human Centipede: First Sequence, one of the best examples of genuinely shocking horror that this generation has encountered (no dirty dress wearing, white face painted ghosts there). The tone of the film is truly one of a kind and helps to cement its own identity within a heavily populated genre, a piece that truly explores what it is to be human and the idea of the loss of that humanity.

There’s really not much that I can say within this review without spoiling it, so I implore you to go and watch this film if the concept interests you. You’re either going to love it or hate it.

A chance worth gambling on.

Jozef Hamilton

Follow @theevilbread on twitter

Images provided by author

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