Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Starring: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Johnny Depp, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez
Tusk is certainly not horror at its best, but this odd little story is definitely horror at its daftest.
Tusk is the bizarre story of the abduction and mutilation of a cocky podcaster by a creepy old man in the Canadian wilderness. It’s a description which may conjure up images of a bleak, moody slasher-film, but it turns out that Tusk is as much a comedy as it is a horror - but more due to its baffling plot rather than any intelligent comedic writing.
It doesn’t start great. Justin Long's dangerously dislikable Wallace Bryton with his even more dislikable moustache dominates much of the first half hour as he tracks down his latest interviewee (and eventual captor) for his podcast. His character is so loud and obnoxious that you may, as I did, end up hoping for his inevitable ill-fate to befall him sooner rather than later – perhaps even beginning to sympathise with his kidnapper… initially, at least. The introduction of Parks' Howard Howe does a lot to dilute Long's influence, and his articulate but eccentric wheelchair-bound recluse is a joy to watch and listen to. He quickly shifts the tone over to creepy, with his wide-eyed storytelling and regaling of his favourite peculiar ornaments. But despite a lengthy conversation between the two, Tusk lacks any tension, any real sense of building threat as the two men talk – an aspect which is simply vital for any horror film, even those which indulge in as much silliness as Tusk.
40 minutes in though, the film finally starts to drum up an atmosphere, helped in this by a simple but powerful move made by Howe. Tusk has finally woken up. He again shifts the tone, this time from creepy to utterly terrifying, which is amplified by the sickening screams from Wallace. The film's mid section, drenched in impending threat and hopelessness, is definitely the strongest part from a horror perspective.
As soon as it arrived, however, Tusk’s atmosphere dissipates. Things start to get more and more bonkers from this point, the horror making way for some absurdity as Wallace begins his horrific transformation into 'Mr Tusk', an old pal of Howe's. Lots of momentum is lost here, and a little too much footage is directed away from Wallace's ordeal. This has a real impact on the rest of the film, and Tusk loses all of its bite; Wallace's situation definitely looks horrific, sure...but it doesn't feel horrific. We aren’t there in the room with him, we merely watch from behind a screen of our own bafflement. We don’t share in his experience, and so there is no way to empathise him in the way that there was 20 minutes prior, when his ordeal first began. While the build up to Wallace’s final predicament (eventually) generated some tension, seeing it in the flesh has considerably less impact. It's not even particularly graphic, so fans of gore will share in the disappointment felt by fans of suspense. So, from this point, Tusk becomes a farce, raising eyebrows rather than pulses, and as the situation becomes more and more crazy, all you can do as the viewer is laugh along and chuckle in disbelief as things become increasingly weird.
The supporting cast also do well, Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez submitting decent performances as Wallace’s distressed friends. A pleasant surprise takes the form of a suitably bizarre but enjoyable contribution from Johnny Depp as the tactless but surprisingly competent French-Canadian detective. It adds to the silliness of the film, if nothing else, and is undoubtedly distracting, but by the time he arrives on the scene there is relatively little to distract you from, so no harm done.
The fickleness of Tusk is frustrating, particularly considering the hugely tense and unsettling scenes during the middle. That’s not to say, however, that Tusk isn’t worth a watch. It's imaginative and ridiculous and, perhaps most importantly, fun, something which will happily fill two hours and leave you smiling and bemused.
In one line: Approach Tusk with an open mind and don’t take it too seriously and you will have an enjoyable but weird couple of hours.