Dir: Kevin Smith
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, and Haley Joel Osment
By Monte Yazzie - The Coda Films
It all started with a podcast. Filmmaker Kevin Smith and longtime friend and producing partner Scott Mosier sat down for their weekly podcast. The subject of the show was an advertisement on a craigslist-like website from a man looking for a roommate who would be willing to dress in a walrus suit. Strange, but this story sparked creative juices taking Smith and Mosier through an hour-long formation of a treatment for a film. Offered to Twitter for approval or disapproval from fans the hash tag, #walrusyes, was overwhelming enough for Smith to pursue the wild idea for major production. With “Tusk” Kevin Smith has made a joking conversation with a friend into a ludicrous, over-the-top comedic horror film tailored for his fans.
Wallace (Justin Long) is an obnoxious podcaster who travels the country looking for odd people to interview. Wallace travels to Manitoba for a meeting with an internet sensation but things go awry. Stuck in Canada without an interview, Wallace finds an advertisement on a bathroom wall that intrigues him enough to venture deep into the True North to find Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an enigmatic wheel chair bound seafarer with a storied life. Living in a museum-like house Howard shares an outlandish story about being lost at sea just before drugging Wallace and taking him captive. His co-host Teddy (Haley Joel Osment) and girlfriend Ally are worried about his disappearance and travel to Canada to search for him with the help of a peculiar detective.
Smith expertly mixes tones, walking and at times diverting far from the line that separates comedy and horror. It feels like a skill tailored for Smith’s talents. This quality is needed in “Tusk” which begins with a reality-grounding introduction but turns into something completely and grossly outrageous. It’s a sharp curve from the norm, one that Smith guides successfully in parts. As is the case with most of the films in Smith’s catalog, things get verbose quickly. While his flair with characters and dialog can be humorous, it can also be frustrating when it takes away from the positive developing features. Unfortunately, there are a few moments where Smith’s overindulgence within scenes hurts the pacing and takes away from the back and fourth tension built by the design utilized in the narrative.
Having the fantastic Michael Parks in your film can hold any wild tangent together. Parks’ performance is committed and exceptional as the sinister seafarer with an obsession with walruses. Justin Long, playing the difficult role here of both man and beast, in extensive makeup, is at times painstakingly annoying when taking advantage of his girlfriend or demeaning Canadians though he is also empathetic albeit by forceful methods of mutilation. There is also an indulgent cameo by a familiar actor in disguising makeup. While this role is amusing at first, especially for those who listen to Smith’s podcast, the joke runs its course quickly.
Kevin Smith is clearly making a movie for his own fascinations and die-hard fans. “Tusk” is Smith at his most technically confident, the cinematography here is better than most of his other work and his narrative is filled with stinging humor and in-jokes all wrapped in a dark and demented premise. While the first half of the film establishes great characters with surprising heart and a playful yet dark environment, the gruesome transitions in the second half feels somewhat uneven. “Tusk” is strangely unique, especially for a Kevin Smith film. It’s different enough from a genre standpoint to split horror fans appreciation but Jay and Silent Bob would explicitly approve.
3.50 out of 5.00