MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Tusk’ Will Stay With You Long After The Credits Roll

Tusk-Movie-Review

Film: Tusk
Starring: Justin Long, Michael Parks
Directed by: Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith has gone full walrus with his latest feature, and the world of horror may never be the same.

Wallace (Justin Long) is a grown man-child who makes his living hosting a podcast with his best friend called the ‘Not-See Party.’ Their show’s premise is never explained, but suffice to say they spend a lot of time watching and commenting on ridiculous videos they find online. One clip, which features a young man accidentally harming himself in an incredibly embarrassing way, inspires Wallace to travel from his home in Los Angeles to rural Canada in order to interview the boy who inspired 30 million YouTube views. Things don’t go as planned, and Wallace soon finds himself with nothing to do and several days to kill in a place with nothing interesting to offer. That is, except for a mysterious message posted to a classified board offering stories from a world traveler in exchange for chores. It’s something too perfect for Wallace to pass up, but it also happens to be the ad that will lead him to a place that might as well be hell on Earth.

The next day, Wallace travels even further into rural Canada to meet the mysterious storyteller (played maniacally by Michael Parks). There he learns of the old man’s many adventures, including an instance where he was stranded in the middle of the ocean with only a walrus to keep him company. It’s that memory the man holds most dear, and it’s his desire to recreate that experience that leads him to turn poor Wallace into a walrus.

Tusk, which is the first in a planned trilogy of Canadian based horror films Smith aims to create in coming years, was originally conceived during a podcast conversation Smith had with longtime co-host Scott Mosier. The pair were riffing on a classified ad from Canada when they began to go on a tangent about a man who attempted to turn another man into a walrus. The idea stuck with Smith, and several months later he asked Twitter followers whether or not they felt he should turn the idea into a film. They responded yes, or #WalrusYes to be specific, and a little over a year later the feature inspired by two people messing around with microphones has become a beast all its own. It’s probably no coincidence Wallace and his cohort are podcasters themselves, or the fact many of the stories Wallace has to share seem lifted from Smith’s own experiences. Smith has always injected himself into his characters, and Wallace may be the best ‘onscreen Kev’ we have ever seen. He’s brash and hilarious, but also far more self-aware than anyone is willing to give credit. He’s a loner, a joke, and most importantly curious about the world around him. So much so, you might say, that it’s the source of all his problems.

Edited together in a far more comical and entertaining fashion than Red State, Smith’s first attempt at something akin to horror, Tusk clips along at a nice pace from beginning to end. It’s a funnier and far more tense viewing experience, though it does take a little while to develop its scares. This is due, at least in part, to several instances where the exposition drags on for a minute or two too long, but given the performances delivered by Michael Parks and newcomer Guy LaPointe, those issues may be easy for many to forgive. Parks is particularly notable, as his effort to bring a man on the verge of a complete psychotic break to life is equal parts enthralling and haunting throughout. You want to hate him as much as you feel sorry for him, which is a rare trait in any villain.

Smith is not a horror filmmaker by trade, so it seems unfair to compare the look and feel of Tusk to other body horror efforts in recent years. The vision of Wallace the walrus is as unsettling an image as you are likely to see on the big screen this year, but the dread and sense of hopelessness present in genre fare like The Human Centipede is nowhere near as present as you might expect. Smith’s interest in horror is not as much because he wants to scare audiences, but rather because he has a creepy story to share. It’s likely some will feel their stomachs turn as Wallace begins to transform, but there is still an inherent sense of fun and curiosity behind the whole affair that keeps things from dipping too far into the typical melodrama such stories tend to offer.

In a time where it seems every horror film either involves a house full of ghosts or CGI monsters, Kevin Smith has given us a reason to care about body horror once again. Even better, he’s done it using practical effects, great acting, and a budget small enough to remind everyone that anyone with an idea can make a good looking film. It has its flaws, though they are admittedly few and far between, but the fact remains that Smith has single-handedly reignited interest in a subgenre of film that has long needed someone with a unique vision to help it along. Tusk is a truly original tale, filled with gags and frights that will delight Smith fanboys as much as gore hounds, and though some may scoff at its premise I don’t think anyone will be able to forget the crazy tale of man and walrus it has to share.

GRADE: B

Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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