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Tusk – 8

Director – Kevin Smith

Cast – Michael Parks, Justin Long, Johnny Depp, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

When a friend informed me that Kevin Smith had a new horror film debuting this year I was surprised. I never assumed that he would do more horror after his 2011 effort Red State, and I never thought he would ever do a film like Tusk. Because of a busy schedule I never gave Tusk the time of day before its release, so I went into this film “blind”. I did not watch a single trailer, nor did I read into the plot or read any articles about Tusk. Simply put, the only thing I knew going into this experience was that it starred Justin Long. I had NO IDEA that the incredible Michael Parks would “release his inner Kraken” (as Quentin Tarantino put it) on us, and I had no clue that Johnny Depp would join as a supporting actor. Oh, and I also had no clue that Tusk would be one of the greatest, and funniest, creature / body horror films I have ever seen.

Podcaster Wallace Bryton believes his chance to hit the big leagues has come when he accepts an offer to interview a mysterious eccentric gentleman named Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Wallace believes Howe’s grand seafaring tales will make up for what has been a lackluster trip to Canada, but the most awe-inducing tale is yet to come. Howard Howe is going to perfect his craft this time and accomplish the unthinkable – he is going to turn Wallace into a walrus. With little time to spare before Wallace is eating mackerel, his best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), girlfriend Allison (Genesis Rodriguez), and disgraced inspector Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) embark on a hilarious trip that only fuels the ongoing insanity that is Tusk.

I go in “blind” when I can, and I must say that this instance proved to be the most fruitful. Whether you know what to expect or not, I don’t think anything can prepare you for what you see here. You can read about it all you want, but seeing really is believing. Kevin Smith has been on the podcast scene since 2007, and he brings his love to the big screen with Wallace Bryton. Bryton initially travels to Canada for a sleazy story hook involving a troubled kid, a move his girlfriend finds distasteful and unlike the “old Wallace” AKA the broke and unfunny loser doing stand-up at low-end bars. A chance opportunity lands Wallace in Howe’s home, and the first act lathers up the viewer to the charismatic presence emitted by Howard Howe. I admit that I was just as infatuated by the man as Wallace was, but obviously I left the experience without walrus tusks jammed into my maxillae.

Smith’s horror arrives briskly, but it takes its time. The transformation process is not an immediate one, and it will take several days time before Wallace can be transformed into a real walrus, and we watch as Howe patiently makes his dream come true. There is an obvious (and outlandish) reason behind Howe’s desire to craft a walrus from a human subject, and I will let you learn the reason when you watch the film. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this slow-burning horror as Wallace constantly awakes to new horrors involving a body that is becoming increasingly non-human. Then, all of a sudden, the horror took a backseat. When Teddy and Allison make their way to the Canadian authorities they are lead to Guy Lapointe. Lapointe is unlike any other character in the film, which is usually the case for a role sold by Johnny Depp. This boozing, binge-eating French Canadian has been on Howe’s tail way before Wallace was involved. He offers to help the desperate two, both his own benefit and theirs. Howard Howe owned the first act, and Guy Lapointe owned the second act with his persona, mannerisms, and surprisingly…his intellect. He works slow, and it leaves the impatient Teddy and Allison squirming in their seats, and thanks to good execution it leaves the viewer squirming as well. Normally I would balk at the horror taking the backseat to such a strong overbearance of comedy, but I loved what I saw here. I laughed aloud on numerous occasions, and much to my surprise my laughter was not limited to Lapointe. Teddy and Allison remained in minimal roles, yet they still managed to not wind up wasteful characters who were only written to take up screen time. When I finally saw the final stage of Wallace’s transformation I could not help but laugh. I am not sure if it was because of shock, or because of the insanity before me, but I laughed more than I expected I would. The story eventually took us from a long second act to an awfully short third act heavy in the action I had been waiting 80some minutes to see. The final 15 or so minutes expanded to horror to a broader horizon that turned slapstick-esque comedy to a heavy sense of dread, and then the end credits rolled. Of course, be sure and stick around for some additional fun during the credits.

Along with a great story comes great direction from Kevin Smith. I will say outrightly that this is a performance-driven film, with Michael Parks hooking us early on. Justin Long sold his role, but before you know it he withers away and Parks takes the lead. He was absolutely fantastic and remains one of the best actors I have ever seen. I am pleased to say that I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Parks at the 2014 Texas Frightmare Weekend convention in Dallas, Texas. I only wish I knew about Tusk back then. Anyway, Parks eventually gives way to Johnny Depp, who delivers one of the most unique performances of his career. Because I did not know he was in the film I did not catch him right away. Slowly but surely, though, I realized I was watching a guy who plays drunk men very well. My favorite scene in the entire film is a flashback scene where Lapointe and Howe met years prior. The scene was not only very well executed by Smith but Parks left me with my mouth wide open the entire time. I was in awe at how versatile he was, with his character exhibiting polarizing emotional extremes. It was interesting to see Haley Joel Osment return to the horror screen, and Genesis Rodriguez was her usually beautiful self but without the cliché Latina stereotypes. Smith’s execution of the acting and comedy was great, but I’m sure you want to know about the horror. Simply put, he sold me a film about a man being turned into a walrus, and it left me horrified. He gives us a full-frontal view to the terror Wallace is going through, and he wrote the horror to move at just the right increments. The moment we see what new bastardization of the human body Wallace has gone through is the very moment Wallace sees it, so we share the shock and horror with him. I loved this tactic. When the big moment finally arrives and we see the complete product Kevin Smith’s editing (which he did himself) and camerawork (James Laxton; Bad Milo, The Violent Kind) assured we would once again be shocked. He employs practical effects for everything, giving us live-action gore, plenty of rubber/latex, and walrus tusks. He executes Justin Long in such tremendous fashion that I was both laughing at him and pitying him at the same time. This conflict of emotions left me even more intrigued at what I was watching, which I believe is one of the greatest body horror films of all time.

Overall, Tusk is incredible. There are similar films out there, like The Human Centipede and American Mary, but just like those two films stand on their own, so does Tusk. Well-written and very well directed, you can’t go wrong watching this. You’ll either believe it’s just as awesome as I say it is or you’ll think it’s a piece of crap. Find out for yourself.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

  1. September 29, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    What the heck happened to little Haley Joel?!

    • October 6, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Right? He’s not so little anymore. I wonder if he’s “back” now.

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