Based on an idea that popped up during his widely popular podcast and then inspired by an actual personal ad he discovered, Kevin Smith’s Tusk is an oddball exercise in weirdness that manages to stay the course despite a total tonal shift halfway through the film.
Anchored by a pair of mesmerizing performances from the film’s co-stars, Justin Long and Michael Parks, there’s no doubt that Tusk is a polarizing affair. You have to be on board for all of Smith’s lunacy or you won’t be able to connect with some of the choices he makes, but I found Tusk wildly inventive and am hopeful it earmarks a bold new chapter for Smith’s filmmaking career.
In Tusk, Long stars as Wallace Bryton, a co-host of a popular podcast who, along with his partner in crime Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), enjoys making fun of people on the internet and has garnered a notorious reputation for taking things too far. After Wallace takes off to Winnipeg for a quick trip to interview (and mock) his latest internet oddity, he finds out that his interviewee has died. Desperate to salvage his trip and find a new “weirdo” to chat with, Wallace comes upon a bulletin board posting that captures his attention. He sets out to interview the man behind the ad, Howard Howe (Parks), who has lived an astonishing life full of adventures- and who also has some sinister future adventures in mind (involving Wallace, of course) as well.
The very reason Tusk manages to succeed as well as it does is largely due to the performances from Long and Parks who throw themselves head-first into their respective roles and elevate Smith’s material to blistering heights. It’s also worth noting that both Parks and Long play polar opposites of each other, making their interactions that much more captivating and intensely played out. Where Howard Howe seems to be a well-mannered, but ferocious madman hell-bent on recapturing an experience he once had with his beloved walrus Mr. Tusk, Long’s character Wallace is a quiet and subtle study in the human condition and what it means to give up your humanity when you are faced with no other choice.
When it comes to Smith, Tusk may be one of the strongest efforts from the indie filmmaking maven, who has continuously relied on his own absurdly clever style of cinematic storytelling throughout his career. The first half of Tusk delivers one gut-punch after another, letting the unease of Wallace’s predicament, and ultimately his fate, toy with viewers’ imaginations and once Long does indeed go “full walrus,” Tusk becomes so unimaginably horrifying, yet disturbingly funny, that the visuals Smith presents us (courtesy of master effectsman Robert Kurtzman) with will undoubtedly stick with you for a long time after seeing the film.
As mentioned, Tusk is definitely going to be a film that challenges viewers when Smith takes a decidedly hard left turn away from the foreboding tone he establishes early on in the film and gives us a wacky subplot about halfway through the movie involving Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), who have traveled to Winnipeg in order to find out what really happened to their friend. The pair recruit the assistance of Guy LaPointe (played by an incognito Johnny Depp), a wacky detective who has long been on the hunt of Howard Howe, and the character is meant to add some levity to the film overall.
For those who were looking for a straight horror film from start to finish, you may not appreciate Smith’s comedic interludes in Tusk, but as someone who likes his brand of humor (and thought the subplot added some nice humanity to Osment and Rodriguez’s secondary characters as well), I rather enjoyed Tusk’s oddball departure and thought it demonstrated some bold choices on Smith’s part. Certainly not a film for everyone, Tusk is by far one of the more imaginative and bold genre-bending films to be released in 2014, proving that Smith still has some thoughtful cinematic insights to share and isn’t afraid to embrace the weird side of his patented brand of humor to get his point across.
Movie Score: 4/5