Dispatches From Fantastic Fest: Tusk
Tusk opens with a disaster; a video that starts as a gag and ends with a cataclysmic fuck up. Tusk itself follows suit. A film that starts out on the usual level of genial Kevin Smith fuckery and ends with genuinely horrific consequences.
Tusk is a bit of a mutant but it is an unusually successful one. It starts off as the kind of Kevin Smith film we’ve come to expect. Filled with cheerful vulgarity, characters who oscillate between despicable and likable and long digressive monologues for all. At the same time Tusk is the work of a filmmaker pushing himself. This is an odd, odd movie and a film that no one else would make. This is the first time I’ve been able to say either of those things about Smith since Clerks 2.
In case you’ve missed it Tusk is the film in which Michael Parks decides to turn Justin Long into a walrus. As far as plots go you must admit that is an eccentric one. Long plays a successful podcaster who chases down Parks after a would be interviewee turns suicidal. Long figures that Parks is a consolation prize, Parks figures that Long is a man with a walrus waiting within. Neither are wrong.
As someone who considered Smith’s initial foray into horror unsuccessful, Tusk is a welcome corrective. It’s not perfect, but it is genuinely eerie. And the tonal schism between Smith’s usual friendly world and the dark places that horror demands is effective, rather than detrimental. The best parts of Tusk exploit the disconnect between what we expect from Kevin Smith and what he delivers to us. In one of the film’s most effective sequences a groggy Long, coming back to conscious after a rather disturbing surgery, babbles semi coherently to Parks, almost purposefully ignoring the rather grievous bodily that has been done to him. Making pop culture jokes and crass comments, it’s as if he’s willing himself to stay in a Kevin Smith film while the movie tries to drag him out into much darker territory. It is worth noting that Parks simply giggles through the scene, unable to keep a straight face during his own ludicrous excuse for what he’s done.
Tusk isn’t perfect, it’s a bit digressive as you would expect any film whose foundations are in a podcast to be and it takes a turn into the absurdist in its third act that reads to me like a failure of nerve. By getting that weird Tusk finally tips the scale into comedy rather than horror, ultimately allows its audience an out letting them dismiss what happens rather than forcing them to accept it.
But if Tusk is imperfect it is also oddly pleasant for a body horror film. Smith’s touch with actors is intact and he gets good performances out of Long, of whom much is asked (and between this and Drag Me To Hell is beginning to build quite a horror resume for himself), Michael Parks who makes his madman so utterly broken and unhinged that he cannot help but be sympathetic and last but not least Johnny Depp who channels a deranged Gerard Depardieu in the most enjoyable live action performance he’s given this side of Public Enemies.
On the whole Tusk is fun, maybe more fun than it should be considering it’s a story about mutilation, but it’s the best time I’ve had at a Kevin Smith film since Zack and Miri Make A Porno. And if it represents the brave new world of Smith’s filmmaking, than I say bring on The Great White North Trilogy, and Anti-Klaus.
Postscript: Nice use of Fleetwood Mac.