Release Date: September 19, 2014
Runtime: 1 hrs. 42 min.
MPAA Rating: R
Production Budget: N/A
Opening Weekend Gross$846,831
Are you really mourning your humanity? I don’t understand, who in the hell would want to be human?- Howard Howe
When a cocky California podcaster travels to Canada for an exclusive interview with an internet laughingstock, but is unable to get the scoop, the internet personality must call an audible if he hopes to have anything interesting for his listeners. But things aren’t always as they seem. In a turn of desperation, the podcaster goes from covering the story to becoming it. With each passing moment, he goes from predator to prey, and if he doesn’t act quickly, the cold of Canada will be the last of his problems.
I’ve always been a fan of Kevin Smith. Even after he publicly insulted me, I pride myself being a reviewer that can separate the work from the creator. It also helped that the Tusk trailer was stellar. So when Tusk opened in a local theater, I made Doc Brown proud as I did 88 MPH all the way to the theater. What I found at my destination surprised even me. Did the film make a splash, or was it washed ashore? Let’s all jump in and get wet as review Kevin Smith’s 2014 body horror Tusk.
Kevin Smith directs Tusk with surprising maturity and confidence. Smith, the director behind the sagas of Jay and Silent Bob, as well as a few studio for hire jobs, usually handles his camera with stealth-like stillness; it virtually never moves. Only two of his features prior to Tusk had remarkable direction; the vastly underrated Dogma (1999) and the stunning sequel to his beloved Indie Clerks (1994). With tusk, Smith shows us that he might be more than a stage director with a camera man stationed in the audience.
Right from the beginning, I realized the direction in Tusk was going to more disciplined; something vastly unexpected from a director like Kevin Smith filming a movie about someone transforming another peron into a walrus. While it takes a while for the multi-conceptual shots to appear, mainly a little after Wallace enters the house of Howard Howe, mostly everything after that felt like a director telling a story using the camera to do so. One not just filming actors in front of it. As a director’s viewer first and foremost, I loved Tusk for this.
Good direction isn’t just moving the camera; it’s using the camera, both in movement and composition selection. Smith at one point uses a crane shot, so there is camera movement in many places as well. While not the only great direction in the film, these are just a few moments that stood out.
A tense scene between our two leads, with the camera outside, as if to give the audience a feeling that nobody can do anything to help poor Wallace, both within the film and in the theater. Another well thought out shot features a close up, capturing an emotional monologue but withholding who is being told the information. I love Smith’s decision do to so as this adds so much suspense to the story and the complicated life of the even more complicated character that is Wallace Bryton. I won’t ruin all the camera work for my fellow Elm Street residences, but it’s hard not to admire the direction in Kevin Smith’s thinly budgeted Tusk.
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Tusk features a few standout performances. Justin Long fill’s the shoes of podcaster Wallace Byrton in the lead role. Long, who’s was stellar in Victor Salva’s unappreciated Jeepers Creepers (2001), Sam Raimi’s post Spider-Man trilogy thriller Drag Me To Hell (2009), and the collage comedy Accepted(2006), brings his charming A-game to Tusk.
In Tusk, Long has the difficult task of gaining our sympathy while being arguably a despicable human. He does this with ease. One scene involves Wallace trying to get his girlfriend to sleep with him after an argument over his change in behavior as of late. Long briskly plays the scene, the girlfriend character, and the audience all simultaneously. We should all dislike this guy, but Long artfully uses his acting ability to conflict everyone involved; you will feel bad for him when it all goes down.
Michael Parks is also amazing in Tusk. Parks, who has worked with the great Quentin Tarantino on a few occasions, as well as director Smith in his Catholicism weary Red State (2011), brings so much to the role of Howard Howe. He plays the role perfectly; Howe truly believes his actions are just and is extremely chilling in the process. Once we are introduced to the menacing Howard Howe, it’s nothing but great acting from Parks.
Other actors in Tusk include Haley Joel Osment playing to great affect the best friend and fellow Podcaster Teddy Craft, Genesis Rodriguez, who does an amazing job as Wallace’s girlfriend Ally Leon, and the surprise cameo played by Johnny Depp. Depp isn’t bad, but like I stated before, he seems undirected and his bit drag on to painful results.
The script for Tusk is really uneven but surprisingly sharp in the areas that work. Smith, who writes as well as directs most of his pictures, blends horror and comedy with swiftness. Smith uses laughter to get the audience to feel for his protagonist, and the results are really satisfying. Instead of making the mistake of playing the laughs at the expense of the core characters, a mistake commonly made in horror comedies, the comedy comes from the personalities of the characters themselves. This is extremely important if the storyteller wants to sell fear later in the feature and desires the audience to consume it in spades.
I also admired the theme within the script’s little white pages. The main point, as I took it, was never let yourself take life for granted, as well as the people in it. That it’s easy for us to feel as if life may never end and to treat people as a means to our personal ends.
This is a point made in many films where the main characters is held against ones will, but I enjoyed that Smith was smart and subtle enough to employ this concept fully. Smith’s Wallace Bryton is a troubled character, having once been a perceived nobody, that doesn’t always make the right choices with his personal relationships.
The genius of the character comes out when it’s time for Wallace to face the horrors that await him. We shouldn’t feel remorse for Wallace, but we do; he’s undeniably human. That isn’t to say the script isn’t without its problems; the film falls drastically in the third act. It’s not just a slight dip in quality, the script becomes unforgivably bad.
It really dulled my blades when I sat in that cold, damp theater and was presented with the kind of narrative shift that happens in Tusk. The anger building as I saw the well earned pacing and momentum pulled out from under the moving picture rug.
The decline begins with the appearance of a surprise cameo, one I’m convince Smith sacrificed his film for because of the guys popularity, and gets worse with every passing moment. It’s as if the director let the cameo do what he wanted and didn’t have the confidence to direct the mega star or cut his scenes down. Sadly this brought the film down in quality and my overall grade.
Kevin Smith’s Tusk was way more than I expected for a film with a premise so goofy. It’s a well directed film and the first 2/3 of the film is among the best hostage horror flicks I’ve ever seen; the third act changes that. The film features two really disciplined and amazing performances, as well a solid script when the film is actually working. While Tusk may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you’ll get the joke if you see the film, the film is far from a waste. If you’re looking for something different, or you love hostage horror, then Tusk is right for you. Beware of the third act; you might be sharpening your own tusks to come after Smith afterwards.