Tusk is a batshit film based on a batshit concept conceived on a batshit podcast. As such, it’s the kind of madcap work of art that’s bound to be derided by some and beloved by others. Being the genre loving man I am, it’s clear I’d be the loudest person laughing at a screening of folks watching Kevin Smith indulge in one of the most gleefully ridiculous concepts I’ve heard in a while. That is, of course, turning a podcaster into a walrus.
Seriously. Wallace and Teddy (Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment) run a podcast where they trash and interview folks who do ridiculous things. The podcast is called The Not-See Party. Yes. You read that right. Long travels to Canada, where he meets all sorts of delightful folk and ends up in the home of a mysterious man named Howard Howe (Michael Parks), who just happens to believe that walruses are majestic beings and attempts to turn anyone who turns up at his home into one.
If all that turns you off, then it’s clear that Tusk is not the film for you, even though there’s much more to the narrative than the measly first act description I’ve given here. But, interestingly enough, it’s not the film for gore hounds to get their rocks off either. In a radio show, or podcasts for us millennial folk, any story being told requires the audience to use their imaginations to a certain extent. Dissected limbs and bloody instruments litter the room at times, but there’s never a real showcase of the kind of torture-porn that populates an abundance of modern horror cinema. Justin Long’s screams of agony and cries for help are what leaves you to think of the horrors unfolding, and when the final result comes, the only thing you can do is guffaw at the sheer scale of ridiculousness.
It’s a fool who walks into a Kevin Smith film expecting gratuitous blood and guts when he’d rather deny folks that. He delivers what he’s used to and what he does best: comedy. It’s just coming in a different form this time than vaguely reality-based situations; with Michael Parks giving the kind of ludicrously over-the-top performance that this b-movie premise deserves. It’s not to say there’s not a little humanity thrown into this wild film by some of the others, notably in Wallace’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and in the not-so-subtle Clerks references, but it’s more about getting the most out of off-beat situations. Newcomer Guy Lapointe (not the hockey player, but this is just one of a dozen Canadian culture references littered in Tusk) is the perfect example of the film’s off-beat qualities. While his screen time could have used a five-minute shave, he delivers a performance I can only compare to the idea of Val Kilmer playing the most cartoonishly Québécois detective you can imagine.
In many ways, it’s like Smith is experimenting with all kinds of things. He shifts gears often, just as he did in Red State, though to much different effect. Well-paced horror is ditched for the sake of tackling mystery with a couple drops of action. But the humor is constant. Smith even toys with the visuals of his film this time around. For all those who praise The Grand Budapest Hotel for its shifting aspect ratio during flashbacks, Tusk offers the same gimmick, giving Howe’s memories of meeting Hemingway and being rescued by a walrus the ol’ classic Hollywood touch. Hell, there’s even 35mm film of seagulls flying over beach shores playing constantly in the background of one of the film’s primary settings.
Many will undoubtedly consider Smith’s latest self-indulgent to a fault, but it’s hard to critique him for a film that has this much fun critiquing a bundle of other things. We laugh along with him as he laughs and takes on the kind of folks who think The Human Centipede is the epitome of body horror and actually a good film (it’s not). There’s even a part of me that thoroughly believes he’s critiquing podcast culture and how dismal it can be, potentially even throwing himself under the bus in the process.
It’s obvious that this is the kind of film that will pander to the folks that tweeted #walrusyes after hearing of its existence on SModcast, but it’s more than that (and I say this as someone who has admittedly only ever listened to a couple of podcasts regularly). It’s the kind of madcap dark comedy loosely grounded in horror that one should expect from Kevin Smith, and it’s delightful to watch regardless of its indulgences.
That being said: more margaritas!
Tusk is currently experiencing a limited theatrical release.
Directed by Kevin Smith; written by Kevin Smith; starring Michael Parks, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Guy Lapointe, Harley Quinn Smith, Lily-Rose Melody Depp; 102 minutes.