Leon Nicholson delivers his verdict on outrageous horror-comedy Tusk, screening as part of the Leeds International Film Festival.
Tusk is a very difficult movie to judge, rate and even recommend. It’s one of those bizarre, weird, perverse movies that needs to be viewed to actually believe what is happening on screen. Tusk could be, and probably will be, dismissed as utter pointless rubbish in some quarters – but there is more to the movie than a guy who has, in a sense, become a human walrus. After all, it’s a Kevin Smith film.
Tusk was born from one of Smith’s podcasts, which focused on an advert on Gumtree. The advertiser offered a rent free room at their home providing the potential lodger would dress up in a walrus costume for approximately 2 hours a day, during which time they had to ‘act and communicate like a walrus’. The advert, of course, was a hoax – but it was too late for Smith, as his imagination went into overdrive. After hypothetically discussing ideas that evolved as the podcast progressed, Smith asked his listeners whether they would like to see a walrus movie made. Hence Tusk.
The story focuses on arrogant podcaster Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) who travels to Canada to interview a young kid for his show. After he discovers that the young man, known as ‘Kill Bill Kid’, has committed suicide, he needs to find a new story fast. As chance would have it, Wallace reads a letter on a toilet wall that interests him dearly.
He contacts the writer of the letter and they decide to meet, in the middle of nowhere. This mysterious person goes by the name of Howard Howe (Michael Parks). He is refined and has plenty of stories to tell, and instantly Wallace finds him charming and absorbing. Things however are not what they seem, as Howe kidnaps Wallace for his wildly strange creation. It’s up to Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), his podcast partner Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and wacky ex-cop Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) to find Bryton before it’s too late.
Kevin Smith films are usually an acquired taste, and not really for the mainstream audience. In fact, when he has tried his hand at more mainstream flicks, they have often become the weakest in his filmography. So where does Tusk rank?
Well, even for the hardcore Smith fan this is very niche, but that very demographic will appreciate this the most. There are Smith’s trademark touches, including his unique brand of (in this case) very dark humour. The horror genre elements of Tusk are very unpleasant, but when counterbalanced by that humour and the surprisingly tragic element to the protagonist’s character, this actually makes for an extremely interesting film. While there may be similarities to David Cronenberg’s ill-fated Seth Brundle in The Fly, the most obvious comparison that keeps coming to mind is Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. That probably says it all, really.
Michael Parks’ Howe is for the majority of the film Smith’s answer to the evil, psychotic Dr. Heiter, and Justin Long’s Wallace Bryton is effectively any of the unfortunate persons in that infamous centipede.
Parks however is excellent, and if one looks at his performances over the years it’s clear that he is actually one of the most accomplished actors working at the moment. Long’s performance meanwhile is one of surprising intensity, where he seems to have absorbed himself into Wallace’s anguish and pain. It’s great to watch and it demonstrates there is plenty in Long’s locker. This however is a very unique role – one that is very rare and may not be see again for ages.
The sexy Genesis Rodriguez as Ally and former child star Haley Joel Osment as Teddy offer solid support, but it’s an unrecognisable Johnny Depp who steals the show with a hilarious appearance as ex-cop Guy Lapointe, appointed on the case to find Wallace.
Strip away the silliness and utter ridiculousness of the movie, and take note of the humour and performances, and there’s a decent film here. But those unfamiliar with Smith’s work will probably fail to appreciate any element of Tusk. This is for the hardcore Kevin Smith fans, and they will be happy to know that Tusk will be the first film in his ‘True North Trilogy’, which will be followed by Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws.
Tusk ranks as Kevin Smith’s most outlandish work, though it is not the best in his filmography. One thing is for sure: Tusk will divide people’s opinions.