Abertoir 2014 Review: Tusk (2014)
**WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS**
This may be a controversial statement but despite Housebound and What We Do in the Shadows completely winning over the audience at this year’s Abertoir Festival, and deservingly so, the marmite offering within this year’s line-up that divided the audience was the film that unexpectedly caught my attention.
Since the unveiling of the trailer at the San-Diego comic con a few months ago, Tusk immediately piqued my interest. It struck me as a harmless comedy with a wacky concept and to a degree it is, however the second only UK screening at Abertoir generated a mix of shock, laughter and general unease.
It’s not often that a mainstream movie amongst a line-up of innovative independent films would garner this amount of appreciation, particularly from me, but Tusk is guaranteed to tip the equilibrium and lingers in the mind, long after viewing.
Ashamedly Kevin Smith’s work is not something I’ve sought out over the years; at most I only recall the Jay and Silent Bob cameo in Scream 3 (2000) that drew any awareness of him. Most popularly known for buddy comedies including Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Smith found fame following his low-budget 1994 success Clerks. The film was picked up by Miramax and won awards at both Cannes and Sundace Film Festivals, leading to a prosperous career for Smith. Tusk is Smith’s second attempt in dabbling in the horror genre, following a mixed bag in the shape of his 2011, action-horror-thriller Red State.
Tusk’s conception formed on Smith’s joint podcast show, SModcast with producing partner Scott Mosier. In their episode ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’, the two discussed an obscure article surrounding an advertisement on Gumtree (the online community) where a homeowner was offering a free living arrangement if the person lodging would agree to dress as a walrus! A completely out of the box idea, Smith and Mosier were onto something and asked the audience to tweet #WalrusYes if they’d like to see this strange story translated onto the big screen. The campaign was evidently successful and it turned out the initial article had been a prank. Chris Parkinson who had initiated the bonkers practical joke and a long-time fan of Smith then became associate producer. Tusk is therefore an amalgamation of being semi-autobiographical hybridized with an unexpected inspiring idea.
Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) are popular podcast-hosters with their politically incorrect show title, The-Not-See-Party. The two poke fun at famous youtube videos, leading Wallace’s put-upon girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) to accuse him of selling out through being mean in order to generate views. Wallace gains the opportunity of interviewing youtube sensation the Kill Bill Kid (based on a real life case) famed for severing his own leg and must take a trip to Canada. With the set-up in place, little does Wallace know that something far more dark and disturbing awaits him when he answers an ambiguous advertisement to meet with a lonely old man with the ‘promise’ of lots of stories to tell. The crazed man Howard Howe (Michael Parks) tells a tale of how he was once rescued by a Walrus who he named Mr. Tusk and how the walrus was the only real creature he ever connected with. What comes next is a series of cruel yet dark humoured events that sees Wallace endure a transformation that he’d never imagined.
Tusk is an absolutely fascinating film. It’s essentially Smith’s signature buddy comedy style crossed with conflict and drama that’s mixed in with disturbing horror and the suspense/thriller narrative. It’s a real genre-bender but somehow it works well. It defies the expectations that the trailer sets, Tusk is actually very uncomfortable viewing. It’s rare that a film manages to keep up both laughs and agitation throughout and balances them on an equal scale.
Justin Long plays the loveable douche with Wallace. He’s slightly obnoxious, shallow and driven but underneath the bravado there’s a genuine side to him and he certainly garners empathy once horrible and despicable things happen to him. Ultimately he’s the anti-hero we root for.
Michael Parks is a delight as the insane Howard Howe. He plays the character as menacing, unhinged but also comical that makes him even more complex and disturbed and fantastic to watch.
No character in the film is flawless and Wallace’s allies Teddy and Ally are far from the loyalist of friends but despite this they will do all they can to ensure Wallace’s safety that adds to the devastating aspect of the film.
In a surprise cameo, Johnny Depp, an exceptional character-actor, despite his Hollywood status still displays versatility for playing weird and quirky roles. His novelty character Guy LaPointe (originally offered to Quentin Tarantino) is a welcome addition, he brings in a sense of hope as he aids Ally and Teddy to Wallace’s whereabouts while adding plenty of unconventional comic relief.
In two breakout performances, young actresses Harley Quinn Smith (Kevin Smith’s daughter) and Lily-Rose Depp (Johnny Depp’s daughter) play the snarky and unamused convenience store clerks who are one step ahead of everyone else. They have the most memorable one liners within the film, and their importance will soon be signified in the follow-up film, the spin-off Yoga Hosers, with them and Depp’s LaPointe as the main focus.
Tusk is often compared to body horror shocker The Human Centipede. While the comparisons are justified in the sense of it’s a film about transforming humans into animals for some sick gratification. Tusk is different beast as its not gratuitous, the surgical scenes are crafted in a way where its left to the imagination. The transformation is literally quite something. The script is a lot smarter and Tusk allows us to care about the characters involved. The set design is stylish with the grand and isolated mansion to the brightly coloured convenience store which contrast each other greatly showcasing that balance of terror and humour.
Tusk gets under the skin in an unexpected fashion with its unusual tone and its slow-burn. It’s a freaky cinematic experience that incorporates hilarity and discomfort. It’s an ambitious film that is pulled off brilliantly. One you watch it, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.
Hayley Alice Roberts.