Fantastic Fest Review: Kevin Smith's 'Tusk' is a Goofy, Shock-Comedy
by Jeremy Kirk
September 18, 2014
The ups and downs of filmmaker Kevin Smith's career would certainly not discount the strangeness of his latest film, Tusk, a body sci-fi/horror/comedy. The weird premise he and SModcast co-host Scott Mosier developed on the fly seems in Smith's stoner wheelhouse. It comes off, however, like a half-baked comedy, a flatly crafted horror feature, and a dully-paced, sometimes amateurish film that never lives up to the high points of what the writer/director has given us in the past. Nothing about Tusk gels well, all the more shameful when taken into consideration how much potential there is in its marijuana-induced design.
Writing what he knows, Smith's protagonist is Wallace Bryton, co-host of a raunchy, LA podcast played by Justin Long. Bryton and his partner, Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), are looking for weird stories about weird people, the eccentric oddities of the world who so frequently find global notoriety through YouTube. In search for their latest story, Bryton heads north of the border , and it isn't long after he crosses over into Canada that his trip takes an odd, left turn.
In the deep woods of Northern Manitoba, Bryton meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an enigmatic sea-voyager who claims to have an ocean of stories for which Bryton can sink his podcasting teeth into. But Howe's stories grow dark, stranger as he describes a relationship he formed with a walrus after he becomes lost as sea. As Howe relays his story, the raffish podcaster listening to him realizes he's quickly losing consciousness. When he awakens the next morning, Bryton discovers the real horrors of Mr. Howe's story beginning to take on new meaning.
It's not as if Smith's story plunges to surface-level depths in hopes of pulling out roars of laughter from the die-hard crowd of fans who will eat up anything the filmmaker serves without question or complaint. Tusk has a decent head on its shoulders, Parks' Howe continuously waxing on about the heart of a man and how one can lose their humanity. With a keener mind for earnestness you almost sense how truly terrifying Smith's film could have been.
Unfortunately, Tusk own humanity is left behind in Smith's more sincere entries, the Chasing Amys and Dogmas that lined his filmography near its beginning. The horrors in Tusk never quite work, because the film's tongue-in-cheek design keeps it on a goofy path towards derailment. The premise Smith and Mosier tossed back and forth on their own podcast cries of a pseudo-Human Centipede by way of Misery, the final results never fulfilling much impact on either the comedic or horror front.
The only one finding a way to play in both sandboxes is Parks. As with his performance in Smith's last outing, the chilling and underrated Red State, Parks plays nefarious with a hint of grumpy old man that captures the perfect level of gallows humor the rest of this film couldn't find even with a compass. You're captivated as he's telling his stories of adventure, even more so when he presents himself as a threat. Most of his scenes are against Long, an unfortunate aspect for the younger actor who gives his respective role his all, as well. Parks is so naturalistic, though, that anyone playing against him seems weak by comparison.
Osment and Genesis Rodriguez, playing Bryton's concerned girlfriend, do fine on their own, the clueless third parties making up much of the third act as they scour Canada searching for their friend. A surprise inclusion in the cast from the second half of the film is good for a number of laughs, but this role quickly devolves into Funny Or Die sketch territory, the actor filling the role (it's best left unsaid who plays this part) comfortably hiding behind facial hair and a thick, French-Canadian accent. At first you're laughing with him, but it isn't long before you're laughing at him.
Tusk bounces between horror and comedy as if the edge between them is something the audience has to bring, Smith rarely ever able to balance the two with any sense of enjoyable entertainment. Is it shocking? Yes, to an extent. Is it strange? You're damned right it's strange. But without a clear distinction between the two genres Smith is batting between, Tusk sinks under the weight of its own blubber.
Jeremy's Fantastic Fest Rating: 5.5 out of 10
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