Kevin Smith’s latest—a horror-comedy about a kidnapper who mangles his victims into walruses—is not entirely unexpected. Coming from Smith nowadays, nothing can be predicted. From Clerks to Chasing Amy, Smith’s delightfully indecisive nature comes to full focus in Tusk.
At first, Tusk seems like a manufactured nightmare. Everything that comes out of its star Justin Long’s mouth seems stale, the plot seems predictable, and the kidnapper embodies the stereotype of nearly every horror movie villain. But as the film progresses, you realize that this is Smith’s intent. He has created Tusk as a parody on the horror genre, and once you realize that, the film changes. It becomes a hilarious interpretation of fear and the absurdity of horror.
The story focuses on Wallace (Long), who, along with his best friend Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), makes his living off of a podcast that focuses on the humor in crazy people they find on the Internet. In the beginning of the film, Wallace decides to travel to Canada to interview a YouTube sensation, but when he arrives, he finds that his interviewee has committed suicide.
Scrambling for a story, Wallace stumbles upon a quirky room-for-hire ad by a man who calls himself an avid storyteller. Wallace takes a chance on his good fortune, and he drives two hours to this man’s estate, where he finds Howard Howe (Michael Parks) waiting for him.
Initially, Howe seems harmless. He’s an old man in a wheelchair, with a few outlandish stories up his sleeve. But after Wallace wakes up from a drug-induced coma to find one of his legs missing, Howe’s capabilities must be reassessed. At dinner that evening, he tells Wallace his true intentions: he wishes to recreate a scene from his past when, alone at sea, Howe had to eat his only friend, a walrus named Mr. Tusk.
Long’s performance as a sleazy, unfaithful boyfriend turned victim-walrus plays effectively on the stereotypes of most horror movie victims. He starts out as a self-absorbed, mustachioed jerk who, through the torture of a psychopath, realizes his selfish ways just in time for his demise.
The horror-genre satire plays on, with a wonderful cameo from an almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp as French-Canadian private investigator Guy Lapointe. Once Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally, get wind that Wallace is in danger, they seek out the help of Lapointe. Over some tiny cheeseburgers in the middle of a Canadian airport security, Lapointe informs them through a thick faux-French accent that even if they find Wallace, he will not be the same as when he left them.
The real star of the show, however, is the perpetrator himself, Mr. Howe. Michael Parks captivates as Howe, especially in his eccentric tale upon Wallace’s regaining of consciousness and discovering his leg is gone. Howe tells lie after lie to convince Wallace that his leg had to be amputated to fight the venom of a spider that mysteriously attacked Wallace. Parks seems to be doing his best Cathy Bates impression from Misery, especially in a delightfully absurd exchange when, after Wallace asks for a phone to call his family, Howe tells him that the doctor removed all the phones in the house because he deemed them too dangerous.
Fashioning two tusks from Wallace’s tibia bones, Howe is able to fashion his victim’s body into that of an actual walrus. Never, however, does the story seem scary or unpleasant. Perhaps this is due to Smith’s fondness for finding the ludicrous in everything. Smith actually based the plot to the film on a sequence from his own podcast, in which he found a flyer for a room for rent, where, as payment, the tenant had to wear a walrus suit for two hours a day.
Despite having flop after flop in the studio system, Smith shines with his return to indie. Tusk showcases what he is best at doing, creating a relatable social analysis from an entirely unordinary situation (see: Clerks, Chasing Amy). Tusk certainly is not something that everyone can enjoy, but it is a testament to Smith’s ability to stay honest with himself, being consistently unpredictable and unceasingly original.
Featured Image Courtesy of A24 Films