TIFF 2014: Wild, Wacky, Grotesque Walrus Fun in Kevin Smith's 'Tusk'
by Alex Billington
September 7, 2014
What did I just see?! Beloved/hated filmmaker Kevin Smith has returned to the Toronto Film Festival this year to premiere his latest film Tusk at midnight, an unlike-anything-else creation straight out of the mind of Kevin Smith, and it's ridiculous. By now most people are familiar with the cult horror Human Centipede, where a sick doctor surgically links humans to create a disgusting "human centipede". But what if some sick individual wanted to create a walrus out of human? Is that man funny, or interesting, or totally insane? How about a bit of everything. Tusk is cult horror comedy done right, with silliness creeping around every corner.
Tusk is more of a balls-out ridiculous comedy than horror, but it certainly has horrific elements. Inspired by an idea from one of Kevin Smith's SModcast episodes, a podcast host from LA named Wallace, played by Justin Long, decides to travel up to Canada to find an "interesting subject" to interview on their show. He eventually stumbles upon Howard Howe, played by Michael Parks, an eccentric elderly man with many stories to tell. But his ultimate fascination? Walruses. He drugs Wallace and eventually turns him into a walrus, with disgusting skin grafts all over and tusks surgically attached to his face. Yea it's fucked up, but done in the perfect kind of Kevin Smith way where you'll be laughing your ass off rather than turning away.
The first half of Tusk is actually much better than the second half, thanks to the humor built around the podcast characters. It's also the perfect film to premiere in Toronto, as most of it is a hilarious commentary on or joke about Canada (or Canadians) in some way. I laughed at so much of the film as pure entertainment from the mind of an unashamed comic. Smith lets lose, to great results. They go full walrus and it works so well. The other co-host is played by Haley Joel Osment, who is fine but this film is really all about the battle between Justin Long and Michael Parks. The two butt heads, initially verbally, then physically, and then finally as walruses, and that's where it gets too wild. This is when the film divulges in stoner mayhem.
By the time we get to see Justin Long in his full walrus outfit, the shock of it has worn off. It looks fake, and maybe that's the point. This film is a cult classic almost entirely due to the thought of "How the hell did this get made?!" It gets points from me for being made at all, and for them going all out with the walrus battle, with the concept, and with the comedy. It doesn't hold back and that's what makes it good. But the second half is almost too much of an unfinished idea to actually work. So, he becomes a walrus-man, and that's it? There's no other pay off? That big reveal comes halfway through and after that, I was wondering if there was anything more to it. There isn't - just more "I can't believe this" humor. Which can only be fun for so long.
I'm so glad I saw Tusk at the midnight premiere in Toronto as that's truly the best way to experience it - with a sold out crowd of horror fans ready for any/everything. We laughed, we cheered, we sat agape in awe at Justin Long as a walrus. Seeing this film by yourself, on your own TV, just won't do it justice. It's the kind of film you need to watch with a bunch of friends, with beers and bongs at the ready. It is by no means a masterpiece or one of Smith's best films, but it is one of his craziest, and I admire they went for it and pulled it off. I'm excited for the rest of his Canadian horror trilogy. Forget centipedes, it's all about walruses now.
Alex's TIFF 2014 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing