Kevin Smith is one brazen son of a gun. His first foray into horror, Tusk is a tricky sell, too silly to be scary, to nihilistic to be widely enjoyed. But screw it, this isn’t about making flavour of the month, Smith’s latest is bold as far as genre mash-ups go. Tusk mashes rural craziness with body horror, ultra-nihilism, and laugh-out-loud silliness to create a truly unique feature. It’s a searing shot of monstrous black comedy that’s made for the thicker skinned viewer.
Wallace (Justin Long) is a successful podcaster and a bit of an asshole, travelling to Canada for a tasteless interview. After the interview is cancelled, Wallace contacts Howard Howe (Michael Parks), an old recluse living in an ancient house who just wants to share the stories of his seafaring adventures. Soon, Wallace is at the whim of a madman with an unfortunate obsession with Walrus.
Michael Parks is the heart and soul of the film, committing 100% to one of modern horror’s best nutters. A close thematic relation to Dieter Laser’s terrifying Dr Heiter in The Human Centipede, Howe proves a far deeper, more gripping, and worryingly likable character. Long is actually superb as a prime caricature of American success, but as a viewer it’s impossible to deny Parks’ gravitas in the pair’s shared screen time. The preposterous narrative benefits hugely from Park’s careful and charismatic performance along with Smith’s dialogue, which is in turns barmy and touching. Without Parks’ long stretches of storytelling, Tusk could have proved a one-trick pony, and even though the story will seem increasingly tenuous, Smith’s characters prove worthy anchors for the plot.
There’s plenty of stuff that’s relatively off: the attempt to build a mysterious love triangle falls flat and a certain celebrity cameo pushes the Inspector Clouseau thing so far it threatens to snap the film’s integrity. There are dumb-sized plot holes that could piss you off, but it’s more bother than it’s worth to get stuck in them. Sure, legs get severed with outrageous ease, Walrus fights are daft, and the resolution may leave some exasperated, but I guess its tough shit. This is an experiment in contemporary gothic informed by a brisk and cynical look at paparazzi culture and the animosity between America and Canada. Its bombastic, shameless, stupid, and oddly beautiful. It’s a story about a crazy old man who wants to turn folk into animals via horrific mutilation, and it’s hilarious.
Tusk is unapologetically nuts, sometimes stupid, but always enjoyable. Michael Parks is utterly superb, Smith’s dialogue deserves to be quoted for years to come, and bonus points to Justin Long, whose guttural screams will haunt my dreams forever.