Sean K. Cureton

Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

I am the Walrus, and Tusk is Coo-Coo-Ca-Choo

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on September 25, 2014 at 5:43 pm
Theatrical Poster

Theatrical Poster

Directed by Kevin Smith
2 out of 4 stars

In what is probably the most bizarre film to come out this year, Kevin Smith’s sophomore outing into the realm of horror is a great start to the fall movie season, filled with genuinely disturbing scares, idiosyncratic bursts of lighthearted humor and wit, and some of the most surprisingly well designed sets and overall shot compositions of Smith’s entire cinematic career. Building upon the unprecedented inventiveness and ingenuity first seen in his 2011 thriller Red State, Tusk is a creature feature in the same vein as The Human Centipede, completely off kilter and sadistic, while being simultaneously infused with Smith’s penchant for raunchy humor and overt sentimentality, making Tusk utterly unforgettable and indescribably peculiar. Part of what makes Tusk such a rewarding and thrilling film to watch is the complete insanity of its plot, pieced together from a conversation between director Kevin Smith and longtime producer and creative partner Scott Mosier, originally featured on an episode of their popular podcast; Tusk is unpredictable from start to finish, leaving the viewer unnerved and anxious, if they’re not laughing maniacally at the film’s subtle use of satire. Unfortunately, Smith does get in his own way at times, often lingering too long on one particular character or back story, lending too much realism and schmaltz then is entirely conducive to the rest of the film’s darker tone, thereby lessening the factor of B-movie campiness that serves to give the film much of its edge and ballsy verve. When Tusk is really working, the unreality of the film’s world is dazzling in its send up of some the more distressing elements of the contemporary horror genre, which makes it a film not to be missed, even if you don’t end up loving it as a whole.

In terms of its narrative arc and character development, Smith has never been better. Tusk is incredibly effective in its implementation of the basic three act plot structure, which serves to move the film’s story along at a pace that is familiar and expected, thereby serving to off set the weirdness of the film from becoming too overwhelming or uncomfortable to watch. The journey that Smith takes his characters on is never too gimmicky or too clever, lending his characters a certain amount of reality within the film’s more fantastic elements and contrivances of hyperbolic horror tropes. As a stand in for Kevin Smith, Justin Long is terrific as one half of the film’s fictional pod casting duo, paying homage to the film’s creative inception with a certain degree of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that lends the film some of its bite, and a little of its bile. Not since Galaxy Quest has Long been this funny or this good in a role, even if he is only on-screen for a little less than half of the film’s relatively concise 102 minute run time. Disturbing, but never truly horrifying, funny, but not ridiculously so, and sentimental, with just a dash of whimsy, Tusk is a very effective film in terms of narrative, defying easy categorization, and more rewarding to the viewer the less they know about the film’s actual plot going in.

And yet, despite the film’s horror genre flourishes and narrative invention, there is a certain unevenness in tone to Smith’s approach that detracts from some of his better intuitions, resulting in a film that is never truly at peace with itself, despite its brash and brutal nature. While much of the film revels in the sheer absurdity of its plot and characters, there are moments in the film where Smith feels the need to explain certain situations through back story and extended sequences of dialogue that only serve to slow the film down to a grinding halt, demystifying certain aspects of the film’s character that are better left unexamined. In particular, there is an entirely unnecessary scene in which an otherwise entertaining exchange with a Quebecois homicide detective is interrupted by a flashback sequence in which Michael Park’s antagonist is examined a little too closely, pulling him ever so slightly out of the realm of surrealistic nightmare into crudely exploitative farce; moments like this one are extraneous and thematically jarring, destabilizing the otherwise creepy atmosphere that lends Tusk so much of its stylistic distinctiveness in the first place. While a lot of the film is strengthened by Smith’s sense of humor, the comedy employed throughout might also be its greatest weakness, as it holds the film back from being either entirely unsettling or supremely bizarre. Instead, Tusk becomes slightly incomprehensible in its near atonality, utterly unforgettable and indescribably peculiar, but in a way that is more incoherent than it is genuinely interesting.

Without a doubt, Kevin Smith’s new feature film is unforgettable, but not purely because of its merit. Tusk is utterly original, but not a masterpiece, and not even when compared to some of Smith’s other pieces of work. The aspects of horror genre reinvention and comedic self-awareness make the film immediately watchable, but fail to raise it much farther beyond the gimmick at the heart of the film’s script. Where Red State was a little more consistent and content to be campy, Smith’s most recent foray into horror genre filmmaking feels a little too ambitious, with not nearly enough intelligence to back it up. Man may be the most dangerous animal, but Smith’s walrus is certainly the most luridly fascinating, but not always for the right reasons.