“Tusk” is truly a movie made on a thousand backs. When Kevin Smith sat down for episode 259 of “SMODCast,” his weekly podcast with Scott Mosier, he had no idea he would put retirement from film on hold to create a movie unlike anything we had seen before. He had no idea that by jokingly tossing out the decision to write it to the fans, asking them to tweet the hashtag #walrusyes or #walrusno, would be a unanimous cry of yes. And I am sure, he never would have dreamed that one housing ad hoax would garner what is easily Smith’s best work to date.
Now let’s be clear here. Smith is not Spielberg. “Tusk” is not “Citizen Kane.” This movie was created by the same man who created “Clerks,” and “Mallrats.” Regardless, I have been a lifelong fan of Smith and his movies. I am an avid listener to his podcasts as well, and was not only a listener of that fateful episode, but have traveled with him via audio every step of the way, as Smith is nothing if not a grateful and generous filmmaker to his fans. As does anyone with age Kevin’s voice has changed throughout the years, and with “Red State,” we saw him take a solid step out of the comedy of his past, powerful colored with feels, into the horror genre. Now, with “Tusk,” we not only see him honing his skills, but we are invited into a true labor of love.
The movie is not only based on a podcast and follows a podcast host, but the entire movie is peppered with small love letters to the audience of his podcasts, from the small to the large. Some examples include Wallace not only being a podcaster like Smith and having the show be called something referencing nazis, there are tons of in-jokes and references to the original gag ad that will tickle an avid fan, but not bother those that have yet to be indoctrinated.
Based on a joke ad a man posted on Gumtree, a free classifieds site in the UK, “Tusk” is a movie about a crazed killer who turns men into walruses. It stars Michael Parks as Howard Howe, and Justin Long as Wallace Bryton, podacaster and eventual “Mr. Tusk.” Haley Joel Osment stars as Teddy, Wallace’s co-host and best friend, and Genesis Rodriguez as Ally, Wallace’s girlfriend. Justin Long looked forward to tackling such a risky, challenging project, despite his agent’s pleas not to accept the part. The allure of only being capable of using his eyes and non-verbal sound to communicate for a large chunk of the movie was something that attracted Long to the project, just as the absurd storyline drew Michael Parks to it.
Parks is in one word astonishing in this film. Since most of the movie is with Justin Long and Parks’ character keeps Justin’s either incredibly drugged or disfigured, there are very long, rambling monologues that on any other actor could easily become obnoxious or downright boring. But Parks’ portrayal of Howard Howe and his quiet, crawling intent to the words has you gripping the floor with your toes waiting for what he will sway next. Despite the incredible performances by the cast as a whole, (Ms. Rodriguez’s direct address monologue is something fellow actors should seriously study,) this is unquestionably Michael Parks’ movie.
I will definitely say Justin Long hit his goals of performing without the aid of language out of the park, but even before we see the horrific destiny of Wallace Bryton, he already left a lasting impression. Long does something that is not often seen in a protagonist – he makes Bryton unsympathetic. Although it is unimaginable what happens to him, and trust me, no one deserves such a fate, in the weirdest of ways you feel as if Wallace is asking for it. Wallace is the precise definition of everything that has driven Parks’ character to this point – he is selfish, vain and greedy, and although no one should endure the torture and fear Bryton is subjected to, you are left with a feeling shrugging and saying, “Dude, you were asking for it.”
Never have I seen a Smith movie be so beautiful. The set design and locations for the movie are both rich and desolate, properly conveying the isolation of the setting. It also mirrors the events leading Parks’ character Howe to such madness – that being the fact he was saved on an island by a walrus. Now Bryton is Howe’s prisoner on his own island, nowhere near anyone or anything that could remotely save him, trapped and for all intents and purposes waiting to die.
Also, it takes a lot to scare me, or gross me out. I thrive on horror movies, and will watch just about anything with a scary streak in it. That being said, the diagrams of Howe’s walrus suit are the stuff of nightmares, things that are completely believable as a psycho’s blueprints. And the reveal of Wallace sewn into his walrus suit is truly a sight to make your skin crawl. I can’t remember the last time I gasped and stared agape at a movie screen. “Tusk” delivered.
The hidden gem of this movie is the performance by Guy LaPointe. Guy, as he is named in the credits, is actually the alias of one Johnny Depp, who plays the French-Canadian detective hot on Howe’s trail. Depp is refreshing and unrecognizable in the movie as the weird and disturbing detective – I’m sure Johnny loved it. Not only is it something unexpected by Depp, which is definitely saying something, and is clearly being done in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, the character of LaPointe is a pleasant surprise in an otherwise dark and hopeless part of the movie. And trust me, you have lived until you see Depp’s character go up against Parks’. Holy Hell.
If I had to really review this movie in one sentence, I would say that “Tusk” succeeded at what “The Human Centipede” attempted. This movie is horrific, but palatable and well-presented. Talented cast and crew and a developed, plot-driven script will do that. I am jealous of true storytellers who have the gift of gab like Smith, and if this had come out before “The Human Centipede,” we might have been gloriously saved from the worldwide sensation that the latter has become. But despite the weak opening the movie has already succeeded thanks to its small budget and distribution sales. This is a movie for the history books, my friend, but trust me. And although its stay in theaters will most probably be a short one, it is something you should buy as soon as it comes out to add to your collection. Without a doubt, “Tusk” is the most ludicrous and terrifying movie out there today. And that is more than enough reason to see it.
NAILS IN THE COFFIN: 8/10
For further information about the movie, or to listen to the podcast episode that started it all, please visit the following links and be sure to follow @thatkevinsmith on Twitter.
OFFICIAL MOVIE SITE: www.tuskthemovie.com
Episode 259 of SMODCast, “The Walrus and The Carpenter”: http://smodcast.com/episodes/the-walrus-and-the-carpenter/ or find SMODCast on iTunes.